What was said in the first meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un may never be known

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesSouth Koreans watch on a screen reporting on the U.S. President Trump meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Seoul Railway Station on June 12, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea.
  • President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a private meeting on Tuesday morning.
  • Experts are concerned Trump could have gone off-script and may provide an unreliable account of events.
  • With only the leaders and their interpreters present, there may never be a full transcript of the meeting, potentially denying US officials the ability to analyse Kim’s words to Trump.
  • The US interpreter will create an official record of the meeting but this may not be a full transcript.

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held their first-ever meeting, and there may never be a full record of what was said.

After meeting shortly after 9 a.m. (local time) for a handshake and photo-op, the two leaders entered a library at Capella Hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa Island to begin a one-on-one bilateral meeting. The two men were each accompanied only by an interpreter, raising concerns among experts.

Suzanne DiMaggio, who facilitated the first official discussions between North Korea and the Trump administration last year, recently said that without aides present “the fear is that he [Trump] might give away too much.”

But while Trump, and Kim, regularly stray off diplomatic scripts, a larger risk may be that there may be no full transcript, public or secret, of what the two leaders discussed.

When Business Insider asked Catherine Killough, a former official in the US State Department’s Office of Korean Affairs and now a fellow at global security foundation Ploughshares Fund, what she sees as the biggest risk of a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Kim is, Killough focused on the lack of record.

“For me, as an analyst, it’s that all we will have to rely on is the word of Trump and/or Kim,” Killough said.

“I’m not convinced by fears that Trump will “give away too much.” I don’t think Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks can do more harm than they already have in previous settings, but given his reportedly short temper, a meeting that leaves him frustrated could set a bad mood over the summit proceedings.”

After the the one-on-one meeting, Trump did appear to be in a good mood, telling reporters that the private discussion between the two leaders was “very, very good.”

But without a full transcript, it could have been easy for Trump and Kim to walk away from their meeting believing they came to two different agreements. And with US and North Korean officials reportedly struggling to close the gap between the two countries in pre-negotiations on Monday, giving up access to a full record of Kim’s comments on Tuesday could hinder further talks.

The closest thing US officials will have to a transcript will be the notes taken by Trump’s interpreter. This person will use their notes, taken while also interpreting, to create the official US written record of the meeting.

This Memorandum of Conversation will be supplied to the US National Archives and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and could take the form of a transcript or simply be paraphrased notes.

With Trump and Kim both known for making exaggerated, if not entirely false claims, those notes could be key to understanding Kim as a leader and furthering plans for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

But as former US ambassador Edward Marks once noted: “It has long been wryly observed that no drafter of a memorandum of conversation has ever reported losing an argument.”

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