US President Donald Trump expressed a bewilderingly high degree of confidence after meeting Kim Jong Un that the North Korean leader is personally committed to giving up the nuclear weapons that ensure his grip on power.
"I think he might want to do this as much or maybe even more than me," the President said during a 65-minute news conference last night, after spending four hours with Kim in Singapore.
"My whole life has been deals," he added later. "I know when somebody wants a deal. . . . I just feel very strongly - my instinct . . . - they want to make a deal."
Eager to cement what he's calling "a very special bond" with Kim, Trump is giving someone the benefit of the doubt who has done little or nothing to earn it.
"I do trust him, yeah," the President told ABC's George Stephanopoulos in an interview. "He really wants to do a great job for North Korea. He's de-nuking the whole place, and I think he's going to start very quickly. He really wants to do something I think terrific for their country."
Trump's certitude about Kim's intentions was reminiscent of when former President George W. Bush proclaimed early in his presidency that he peered into Russian President Vladimir Putin's eyes, saw his soul and concluded that the Russian leader was trustworthy.
"This is complete denuclearisation," Trump insisted. "I really believe that it's going to go quickly. I really believe it's going to go fast. . . . We will do it as fast as it can mechanically and physically be done."
When a reporter at the news conference asked how he'll ensure Kim follows through, Trump was dismissive: "Can you ensure anything? Can I ensure you are going to be able to sit down properly when you sit down?"
That's a far cry from Ronald Reagan's mantra during arms control talks with the Soviets: "Trust but verify."
Mistakes of the past
Instead, Trump attacked with relish the three men who preceded him as commander in chief for their failure to do what he just had.
The President said Kim, without prompting, brought up North Korea's repeated failures to live up to deals with the United States.
"He wants to get it done," Trump told his friend Sean Hannity on Fox News. "You know, you hear the whole thing about his father and other administrations or his grandfather. The fact is, and he brings that up, they weren't dealing with me! They were dealing with different people. . . . I talked about (how) we have to de-nuke - his country has to be de-nuked - and he understood that. He fully understood that. He didn't fight it."
During the news conference, on foreign soil, he called out former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton by name. "In one case, they took billions of dollars during the Clinton regime . . . and nothing happened. And that was a terrible thing. And he actually brought it up to me," Trump said. "This is a much different time, and this is a much different president."
Asked again why this time is different, Trump said that "maybe it wasn't a priority" for the previous presidents to bring peace to the peninsula. (They'd all very strongly disagree.) "I don't think they honestly could have done it if it was a priority," he said. "I'm not just blaming President Obama. This goes back for 25 years."
Trump does nothing to conceal his belief that he's smarter, tougher and a better negotiator than his predecessors. The same person who declared "I alone can fix it" when accepting the Republican nomination for president in 2016 believes that he alone could make a deal with Kim.
Showing his high regard for himself, Trump noting during his news conference that he will remember everything that transpired during his conversations with Kim. "I don't have to verify because I have one of the great memories of all time," he said.
Turning on the charm jets
Trump, who turns 72 this week, seemed quite taken with Kim. He really turned on the charm jets during their photo ops. He said it was "a great honour" to be with the 34-year-old, whom he repeatedly referred to as "Mr Chairman."
"We will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt," Trump said of the ruthless totalitarian leader, who has murdered multiple members of his family.
The President noted during his news conference that Kim took over from his father at 26 and was able to maintain control of the regime. "Well, he is very talented," Trump said. "You could take one out of 10,000, and they probably couldn't do it."
Asked about human rights, the President said he briefly broached the subject: "It was discussed relatively briefly compared to denuclearisation. . . . I think he wants to do things . . . He wants to do the right thing."
Trump added that University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, who was arrested while visiting the country and died last year just days after release from a North Korean prison, "did not die in vain."
"I think without Otto this would not have happened," he said. "It was a terrible thing, it was brutal, but a lot of people started to focus on what was going on."
"Absolutely, I will," Trump said when asked if he'll invite Kim to the White House. The President added that he "will" visit Pyongyang "at the appropriate time."
Trump referred to the communique that the two leaders signed at the end of their time together as "very comprehensive," but it is not.
During the news conference, Trump said he will order an end to regular "war games" that the United States conducts with South Korea. But he downplayed ending the joint military exercises as a minor concession, describing them as "very provocative" and "inappropriate."
"They're tremendously expensive," he said of the training exercises. "We fly in bombers from Guam. . . . (That's) six and a half hours . . . I know a lot about airplanes. It's very expensive. And I didn't like it."
Trump also floated that the United States might eventually withdraw troops from South Korea. "I want to get our soldiers out," he said. "I want to bring our soldiers back home. Right now, we have 32,000 soldiers in South Korea . . . That's not part of the equation right now."
Asked what consequences North Korea will face if Kim never follows through on his commitments, Trump demurred. "I don't want to be threatening," he said.