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Moon, Trump exhibit unlikely chemistry

As their maiden dinner meeting unfurled at the White House on Thursday, Presidents Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump were seen fostering a rapport, trading jokes and cheers about each other’s election victory. 

In an apparent bid to break the ice, Moon said that he also suffers from “a bit of fake news” coverage, prompting laughs. Trump, who uses the term to describe unfavorable news reports, said he hoped the media heard that. 

Trump congratulated Moon on his election win, saying it was a “great victory, and you did a fantastic job.”

“A lot of people didn‘t expect that, and I did expect it. I thought that was going to happen,” he said.

President Donald Trump with first lady Melania Trump (right), welcome South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jung-sook (left), during a dinner in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday. (Yonhap)
President Donald Trump with first lady Melania Trump (right), welcome South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jung-sook (left), during a dinner in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday. (Yonhap)

The dinner talks were meant for the presidents to lay the groundwork for an emotional bond and mutual policy understanding ahead of their summit Friday, where they are expected to discuss North Korea, trade and other delicate matters.

Moon managed to ride out his first handshake with Trump without a hitch, to the relief of many Cheong Wa Dae officials.

Accompanied by First Lady Kim Jung-sook by his side, Moon was greeted by Trump and his wife Melania on the White House’s South Lawn as they arrived. Both donning a blue tie, the two leaders shook hands for about four seconds, with Trump briefly putting his left hand on Moon’s shoulder and Moon slightly holding Trump’s arm.

Four subsequent rounds of handshakes also turned out well.

Handshakes have become a totem of diplomacy of Trump, who psychologists say uses the interactions as a chance to showcase dominance. There have been awkward moments, such as the 19-second white-knuckle shake with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and when he snubbed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s offer.

Poised and prepared, French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weathered their respective moments by shaking Trump’s hand even more aggressively, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a big hug instead.

After the dinner ended around 20 minutes later than expected, Trump offered Moon and his wife a tour to the Treaty Room, his official residence, and the Lincoln Bedroom, a Victorian style guest room where former US President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is on display.

“The conversations between the leaders began in a somewhat tense atmosphere but as time passed, it grew friendlier,” Moon’s press secretary Yoon Young-chan told reporters after the meeting, adding Trump lauded the president’s speech at a memorial for the US veterans of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the 1950-53 Korean War as “excellent and moving.”

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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