President Trump shook hands with Kim Jong-un of North Korea on Tuesday and offered a major concession during the first summit meeting between their nations, a momentous step in an improbable courtship between the world’s largest nuclear power and the most reclusive one.
Brash, impulsive leaders who only a few months ago taunted each other across a nuclear abyss, Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim set aside their threats in a gamble that for now, at least, personal diplomacy can counteract decades of enmity and distrust. The day began with a carefully choreographed encounter in which Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim strode toward each other, arms extended, in the red-carpeted reception area of a Singapore hotel built on the site of a British colonial outpost.
It was the latest twist in the international drama over the fate of the North’s nuclear program and a complete reversal by the Trump administration, which had previously said the exercises were important to defend an ally and not negotiable. It was also a remarkable bet by Mr. Trump that he can persuade Mr. Kim to follow through on pledges to surrender his nuclear weapons that are almost identical to those the North has made and broken in the past.
Posing before a wall of American and North Korean flags, Mr. Trump put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. Then the two, alone except for their interpreters, walked off to meet privately in an attempt to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program. Their negotiators had failed to make much headway in working-level meetings before the meeting, leaving Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim with little common ground ahead of what could be months or even years of talks.
But this was a negotiation that followed no known playbook: Two headstrong men — one 34 years old, the other 71, products of wealth and privilege, but with lives so dissimilar they were practically from different planets — coming together to search for a deal that eluded their predecessors.