Donald Trump praised Kim Jong-un as a “great leader” on Wednesday and talked up North Korea’s “unlimited” economic potential as the pair begun their two-day summit in Vietnam.
The US and North Korean leaders shared a 10-second handshake, warm words and a laugh while posing for the camera as they met for only the second time in Hanoi, the Vietnam capital.
They talked alone at first, save only for interpreters, before enjoying a wider dinner with key members of their administrations at a luxury colonial-era hotel in the city.
Mr Trump, who earlier in the day had tweeted about “my friend Kim”, talked up North Korea’s economic prospects – the carrot with which he hopes to convince Kim to give up his nuclear weapons.
“I think that your country has tremendous economic potential – unbelievable, unlimited," the US president told Kim at the beginning of their one-on-one chat.
"I think that you will have a tremendous future with your country – a great leader – and I look forward to watching it happen and helping it to happen."
Kim said that North Korea had been “misunderstood” and viewed with “distrust” in the past but praised the steps Washington and Pyongyang have made to ease tensions.
“There have been efforts, whether out of hostility or not, to block the path that we intend to take," Kim said, before adding that those challenges had been “overcome”.
He said of the Vietnam summit: "I am confident that we can achieve great results that everyone welcomes."
The civility of the exchanges underscored the remarkable thawing in relations between Mr Trump, 72, and Kim, 35, over the last 18 months.
Mr Trump’s first year in office was marked with threats of “fire and fury” and mockery of Kim as “Little Rocket Man” but from early 2018 tensions eased, culminating in a historic summit in Singapore last June.
There were no policy breakthroughs announced on Wednesday evening, with more substantial talks about implementing Kim’s loose pledge to denuclearise at the Singapore summit due to take place on Thursday.
Instead the leaders put on a display of mutual respect when they met at the Metropole, a luxury French colonial-era hotel that includes actor Charlie Chaplin and author Graham Greene among its famous past guests.
Striding out towards each other shortly before 7pm local time, Mr Trump and Kim shook hands against a backdrop of a dozen interwoven US and North Korean flags.
Mr Trump patted Kim on his back before they turned to pose for the cameras, with the pair sharing a laugh before heading off to their negotiations.
The US president was asked by one reporter whether the summit would result in a political declaration to end the Korean War. "We’ll see,” he responded.
A one-on-one chat was followed by dinner with an extended ground of aides around a small round table covered by a white tablecloth.
Mr Trump was joined by Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff. Alongside Kim was Kim Yong Chol, a former military spy chief helping lead negotiations, and Ri Yong Ho, the North Korean foreign affairs minister. Two translators also attended.
"A lot of things are going to be solved I hope," Mr Trump said as dinner begun. "I think it will lead to a wonderful, really a wonderful situation long-term."
The White House unexpectedly restricted access for the handful of reporters following the group, allowing just one print reporter into the dinner.
Two reporters who asked questions during the handshake were reportedly not allowed to attend, prompting outrage from Washington journalists over press restrictions.
Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said of the incident that “due to the sensitive nature of the meeting” the group of reporters allowed in had to be “limited”.
Mr Trump earlier in the day had met the Vietnamese president Nguyen Phu Trong and prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
The US president, who was greeted by scores of children waving Vietnam and US flags before the meetings, signed trade deals that confirmed the sale of more than 100 Boeing jets to Vietnamese businesses. Mr Trump tweeted at the start of the day: “Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth. North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize.
“The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un. We will know fairly soon – Very Interesting!” But some local politicians played down the hope of the summit creating a major breakthrough.
Dr Ngo Quang Xuan, vice-chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Vietnam’s National Assembly, told The Telegraph: “It [denuclearisation] is a very sensitive and difficult objective to obtain, and that’s why it will take time – not one or two days, not one month – for the final settlement.”