The Swiss media have reacted with caution to the meeting in Singapore between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump – the first time a sitting US president and North Korean leader had met face to face.
“Smile in a friendly manner, shake hands, pat him on the shoulder – Kim Jong-un came across as experienced and wasn’t intimidated by the most powerful man in the world,” said Swiss public television, SRF, in an editorial headlined “And the winner is … Kim Jong-un”.
Trump and Kim pledged on Tuesday to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula while Washington committed to provide security guarantees for its old enemy. The joint statement signed at the end of their historic summit gave few details on how either goal would be achieved.
“It was only at the signing that Kim appeared somewhat overwhelmed, when Trump answered journalists’ questions. This was because the meeting was new ground for Kim – the North Korean leader’s first trip into non-socialist territory,” SRF said.
“But even though Donald Trump did most of the talking to the media, Kim can notch up the summit as a success. The television images showed Kim on an equal standing with the most powerful man in the world. This alone lent Kim and his regime the desired legitimisation.”
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) agreed. “The summit in Singapore couldn’t have gone any better – especially for Kim Jong-un. After the perfectly choreographed show, it’s now time for the hard work – building up trust between North Korea and the US.”
There was shock, relief, and worry, sometimes simultaneously, as the world watched Trump and Kim – who were insulting each other’s mental and physical prowess and threatening nuclear war just a few months ago – shaking hands and smiling.
“Trump and Kim both realised that both benefit from the show in Singapore: Trump has shown that he can make deals with men like Kim Jong-un if he wants; Kim has achieved the recognition that his country has wanted for a long time,” the NZZ wrote.
Le Temps in Geneva reckoned both men benefited in their own way from the meeting, although it, too, said Kim “clearly benefited more”.
“Until recently considered a pariah – crazy by certain people – here he was treated as an equal by the president of the United States. In just a few months, the young North Korean leader, whose nuclear programme threatened world peace, has presented himself as a respectable conversation partner, a credible leader and a strategist extraordinaire courted by all the major powers.”
Le Temps pointed out that it was just the beginning of a process that should take years, with plenty of chances for things to go wrong, “but for Donald Trump it’s mission accomplished”.
“On the eve of midterm elections, which are looking like being a disaster [for Trump], he can claim a major diplomatic victory.”
The Tribune de Genève was one of the more hesitantly approving voices. Sure, it said, the whole exercise was a PR coup, the final agreement was lacking details, Washington had given more ground than necessary and Trump’s praise for someone responsible for appalling human rights abuses left a bad taste in the mouth, “but whatever the form of potential talks between the two countries, one thing remains: it had become necessary to end North Korea’s pariah status”.
Everyone knew the cost of prolonging the isolation of the “hermit kingdom”, the paper said: “its only option would be to continue provoking its neighbours.”
Speaking before the summit, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Pascale Baeriswyl said the meeting was a “first step”.
“A few months ago, we feared the worst; now, we hope for the best,” she told Swiss public radio, RTS, adding that “serious diplomacy remained to be done”.
“One mustn’t forget the work of the South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Many people did a significant amount of preparation work,” Baeriswyl insisted.
However, for the NZZ the “crucial point” of the summit was that Kim hadn’t had to budge one centimetre.
“If things go south, Donald Trump will be the loser. He stressed with a grin across his face his good relationship with the leader of a state that has been hit with international sanctions not only for its aggressive foreign policy but also for countless human rights violations that guarantee the regime’s survival,” it wrote.
“Should it turn out that North Korea has once again received economic aid without doing anything in return, the summit in Singapore could become a boomerang that returns and hits Trump smack in his face.”