In a surprise announcement in early March, President Donald Trump said that he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un within two months.
The preparations for the meeting were hampered by the lack of North Korea expertise within the administration, the short-staffed State Department, and the mercurial temperament of the president. The North Korean side complicated matters with its infrequent communications and opaque decision-making. Skeptics in the United States gave the odds of the meeting taking place at less than 50 percent and the chances of an actual agreement considerably less.
And yet, despite this skepticism — and despite the replacement of the relatively diplomatic Rex Tillerson with the fire-starter Mike Pompeo as secretary of state — Trump and Kim did ultimately sit down at the end of April in the Joint Security Area conference room in Panmunjom, which straddles the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.
It was the first time that a North Korean leader met a sitting U.S. president. No advisors were present. The leaders met with only their translators by their sides.
Here is a transcript of the historic meeting.
Kim Jong Un: Welcome to Korea, President Donald Trump. This is a gift from the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This golf club is gold-plated with inlaid jewels. It comes with my personal invitation to tee off at the Pyongyang Golf Course, an 18-hole course in our beautiful capital.
Donald Trump: That’s tremendous, thank you, thank you. It’s a pleasure to meet you, too, General Kim. I have a lot of friends who are generals. I think we can be great friends too. You’re doing a great job in a difficult situation. And here’s my present for you. This is our newly designed presidential coin. Also gold. Very gold! Has my name on it. Beautifully made!
Kim: Thank you. We will put this in our International Friendship Exhibition in Myohyangsan. You have travelled a great distance. You must be tired.
Trump: Very excited to be here. I think we can make a deal. You and me. We can work this out. This nuclear thing. Why not? Other presidents tried. They couldn’t. They were weak. They had their shot, and all they did was nothing. I can get this done. We can get this done.
Kim: Yes, we can. The people of the DPRK very much want a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons.
Trump: Yes! That is what we want too.
Kim: But we are also realistic. We know that this is complicated. We know that it can’t happen today. Or tomorrow.
Trump: No, no, of course. But before the next elections. I am sure we can do this before the next elections. Our elections. You don’t have elections. I envy you. But we can start here by making an agreement.
Kim: Even a 1,000-mile trip must begin with a first step.
Trump: Yes, we will take this first small step together. But it will be a giant step for me. I mean, for mankind.
Kim: Of course, we have already taken several steps. We have declared a moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons and of long-range missiles. We have accepted your military exercises with your ally.
Trump: And we have also taken a step. We have not bombed your country.
Kim: Excuse me?
Trump: It is a joke! I say what is on my mind. All the time. No censor. That is why you can trust me. I say what I mean. And what I say is mean. I mean: I mean what I say.
Kim: That is good. That is why I want to meet you. My advisors tell me that it is a mistake to meet a mentally deranged dotard. But I tell them, no, he is a businessman. We can do business together.
Trump: Yes, business. Even though you are a Communist.
Kim: I am a Korean. I must do what is best for my country. We don’t care what color the cat is as long as it grabs the mouse, tears its head off, and eats the bloody corpse. We need business. And your name is synonymous with business.
Trump: All over the world!
Kim: Yes, but not in Pyongyang. So, let me make the first offer. We want to give you space in downtown Pyongyang for a Trump International Hotel. No taxes for the first five years. We want the best hotel in the world. We want Trump.
Trump: Now we’re talking!
Kim: And your Ivanka. We will give her trademarks to sell her products all over the country. Jared can invest into a business tower. We have a casino in Najin-Sonbong for Eric and Donald Jr. We understand the importance of family in North Korea. My family and your family.
Trump: I knew that we could see eye to eye. You know Xi over there in China? We’re great friends. Duterte in the Philippines? Putin? That Egyptian guy, I forget his name. Same with the guy in Turkey. All great friends. I don’t care what they do in their own countries. As long as they don’t bother us. As long as they go about their own business. As long as they go after Islamic terrorists.
Kim: You have good friends. But they cost you a lot of money. Japan. South Korea. These are rich countries. But you are spending all this money on them.
Trump: Bingo! That’s what I’ve been telling everyone. But even Mattis over at Pentagon doesn’t understand me.
Kim: You should make them pay their own way. Then you can spend your money building hotels and highways in America. Then you can send your soldiers to fight against Islamic terrorists elsewhere. There are no Islamic terrorists here. No terrorism. No Islam. No religion!
Trump: And you will give up your nuclear weapons?
Kim: Yes. Eventually.
Trump: Can you give me a date? How about by October? We could make an announcement in late October. We can even make it a surprise.
Kim: Speaking of surprises, here is a draft peace treaty to end the Korean War. It will be important for us to sign this first.
Trump: But the Korean War ended a long time ago. The 1960s, wasn’t it?
Kim: It was an armistice. In the 1950s. So, first we must end that war. It is just a formality.
Trump: I’ll show it to my lawyers.
Kim: Your lawyers don’t know as much as you do.
Trump: That’s true. But sometimes they provide good advice. Like when I have to pay off… certain people.
Kim: You could get a Nobel Prize if you sign it.
Trump: Oh! You really think so?
Kim: And you will get the prize for a good reason. For actually doing something. Unlike your unworthy predecessor.
Trump: Good point. Let me read it.
Kim: Take your time. As you see, China has already signed. We have too.
Trump: This seems reasonable. The war is over, and we’re just saying that the war is over. Okay, my gut says: let’s do this thing.
Kim: Very good.
Trump: I want to take a picture of this and tweet it.
Kim: Of course. It is important to tell the world.
Trump: Bolton said this would never happen. And then I’d have to bomb you because we ran out of road. Bolton is going to be very unhappy.
Kim: I think the world is very happy when John Bolton is unhappy.
Trump: He also wanted me to push you on human rights.
Kim: We think that business is more important than human rights.
Trump: Well, honestly, so do I.
Kim: That’s why we want you to remove economic sanctions. So that we can do business with the world. With the United States. With the Trump organization.
Trump: Makes sense. And you’ll get rid of your nukes.
Kim: Eventually. But I must ask you: How can we trust you? You signed an agreement with Iran, and now you want to pull out. You made a deal with Cuba, and now you are backing away.
Trump: That was Obama. Not me. You can’t blame that on me.
Kim: But what happens with this agreement if your Congress opposes you? Or someone else becomes president in a few years and reverses your policies? Your political system is crazy. You Americans are always changing your mind. You are so unpredictable.
Trump: I said that I would meet you. And I am here. And hey, you guys also violated agreements.
Kim: We did what we had to do to survive. To make North Korea great again. The only way this is going to work, the only way we can trust you, is if we solve everything all at once, here and now. We have to be like Chollima, the horse that gallops a thousand miles in a day.
Kim: A big beautiful American embassy in Pyongyang.
Trump: And you’ll give up your nukes?
Kim: Eventually. And for us, we would like your old FBI building on Pennsylvania Avenue. Then we can watch your military parade together from the rooftop.
Trump: I’m a world-class negotiator. So I’m going to have to pin you down. No nukes by October 30.
Kim: Here’s the agreement. The Everything Agreement. And watch: I will put in the date. October 30.
Trump: I don’t know about the FBI building.
Kim: Watch: we will change that to “location TBA.”
Trump: You’re a tough negotiator, General Kim. But I like this. Let’s do it.
Kim: There. I will take a picture. But no Twitter.
Trump: I can taste the Nobel Prize.
Kim: Congratulations, Mr. President.
Trump: And this October 30, we will make a surprise announcement that North Korea has completely given up its nuclear weapons.
Kim: This October 30?
Trump: Yes, just before our mid-term elections. We’ll get a nice bounce.
Kim: But please, Mr. President, look carefully at the agreement that we just signed. There is no year specified. We have promised to eliminate our nuclear weapons by October 30 at some point in the future.
Trump: Wait —
Kim: This October 30, let us golf together in my hometown. And I will show you the future location of Trump International Pyongyang. Maybe we will also have some fireworks to celebrate our agreement.
World Beat, Foreign Policy In Focus, March 14, 2018