SINGAPORE — As their friendly visit here Tuesday drew to a close, President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took seats along a flower-adorned mahogany table to sign an oversize sheet of paper.
Before the statesmen was a “very important” and “pretty comprehensive” document, in the words of Trump, who etched his jagged signature onto it with a thick black Sharpie.
Kim was just as grandiose, calling the giant proclamation “historic” as he left his mark, but only after a white-gloved North Korean official had personally inspected and swabbed the pen that had been set for him. Kim’s sister then replaced the pen, which bore Trump’s signature, with one of her own, attentive to the security and autonomy of the supreme leader.
What exactly the two men signed with a flourish — A peace treaty? An agreement for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons? A vague claim of momentum between the two countries? — remained a mystery for more than two hours, until Trump revealed it at his grand-finale news conference.
To learn the outcome of the landmark Singapore summit, the world had to stay tuned in. This, after all, was a Donald J. Trump production.
The nearly nine hours the president spent summiting at the flag-adorned Capella hotel here Tuesday overflowed with Trumpian hallmarks, from his choreographed first handshake with Kim on an endless red carpet to the propaganda-style video he played at the start of his victory-lap back-and-forth with the press.
A former television reality-show producer, Trump has long had a thirst for the dramatic and an eye for the cinematic. As he stepped along a grand colonnade to greet Trump for the first time, a dozen alternating American and North Korean flags neatly arrayed behind them, Kim remarked through an interpreter that many people might say the scene was fantastical — like “a science-fiction movie.”
As orchestrated as the day was, however, it included plenty of unscripted moments and lighthearted banter, as well. When the two gathered in a dining room for lunch, Trump motioned to the nearby cameramen.
“Getting a good picture, everybody?” the president asked. “So we look nice and handsome and thin? Perfect.”
The rotund Kim did not chime in.
They were served an eclectic, multi-course meal with Asian and Western dishes — Korean stuffed cucumber, beef short ribs, pork fried rice, braised cod and, a favorite of the president’s, Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream.
As the two leaders took a short walk around the property to work off the meal, Trump showed off his armored stretch Cadillac to Kim. A Secret Service agent held open a door so Kim could peer inside the “Beast,” as the presidential limousine is known, but the curious North Korean dictator did not climb inside.
Trump’s comments throughout the day were short on details, demonstrating a lack of command over the technicalities of nuclear arms negotiations, but heavy on superlatives. As he told it, the summit was “very historic.” Kim was “very talented,” “very smart” and a “very good negotiator.” The agreement they reached was “very, very comprehensive.” The North Korean people were “very gifted.” And their country’s future is “very, very bright.”
As he often does, Trump tried to win his guest’s affections. He softened concerns about Kim’s record of human rights atrocities by saying “it’s a rough situation over there” but adding, “It’s rough in a lot of places, by the way.”
Trump also spoke euphemistically about Kim’s popularity in North Korea, a country where citizens who try to escape are often sentenced to labor camps or executed. “His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor,” Trump said of Kim in an interview with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos.
Trump described his half-day of meetings with Kim as a singular moment in history and said his approach to North Korea — first with fiery rhetoric and brinkmanship and now with a gentle touch — has saved the lives of tens of millions of people because it staved off a nuclear catastrophe in Seoul, the South Korean capital, which is home to about 25 million people 35 miles from the demilitarized zone with the North.
“This is really an honor for me to be doing this, because I think, you know, potentially, you could have lost, you know, 30-, 40-, 50 million people,” Trump said at the news conference.
Trump said he tried to help Kim imagine his country as wealthy and modern, with “great condos” and “the best hotels” on its waterfront — if only North Korea opened itself to the world.
“They have great beaches,” Trump told reporters. “You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean, right? I said: ‘Boy, look at that place. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?’ And I explained it. I said, ‘Instead of doing that, you could have the best hotels in the world right there.’ Think of it from a real estate perspective.”
To that end, Trump commissioned a film portraying North Korea as some sort of paradise, with gleaming sky-rises, time-lapsed sunrises, high-speed trains, majestic horses running through water and children merrily skipping through Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang. It included a montage of images of Kim Jong Un and Trump waving their hands and flashing thumbs up, as if running mates in a campaign.
The film was reminiscent of Pyongyang’s propaganda videos, only it was made in the United States under Trump’s direction. It included a credit to Destiny Pictures.
Trump said he had it made to show Kim what his country’s future could look like if it abandoned its nuclear weapons and normalized relations with the West. Trump said he played the film on an iPad for Kim during one of their meetings — and, Trump said, “I think he loved it.” So the president directed aides to play it on giant screens in the auditorium at the start of his news conference, first a version in Korean and then one in English.
Tuesday’s capstone was Trump’s news conference, a freewheeling affair that lasted 66 minutes. The president was confident and chummy with reporters, even those he often attacks. He called on CNN’s Jim Acosta, a favorite foil, and said with a smirk: “Go ahead. Be nice. Be respectful.”
Trump did not utter the words “fake news.” A few reporters from conservative outlets, including Jon Decker of Fox News Radio and Emerald Robinson of One America News Network, wished the president “congratulations” before asking their questions.
Trump clearly enjoyed bantering with the press, though his answers lacked some of the substantive detail reporters were seeking. The president’s aides seemed to enjoy it less. About midway through, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who had been jostling in their seats in the front row, could be seen gesturing at White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders as if to enlist her in cutting off the news conference.
But the president kept going and going. As he started to walk out, headed to the airport for the day-long flight home to Washington, reporters shouted out questions about his previously undisclosed first phone call with Kim. Some asked whether there was a recording or notes of the conversation to give the government a record of what the two men said.
“We don’t have to verify,” Trump said, “because I have one of the great memories of all time. So I don’t have to, okay?”
Avi Selk in Washington contributed to this report.