The Historic Meetings Between U.S. Presidents and World Dictators (and How Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un’s Meeting Compares)
President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un marked the first time a sitting U.S. president met with a ruling Kim family member. But it hardly marked the first time the leader of the free world has shaken hands with a world dictator.
Here we’ll show you nine such historic summits. See which former president met with one of the Kims in recent years (page 6) and how Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un compares (page 9).
1. Hoover meets Hitler
- The Fuhrer told Hoover his country couldn’t afford to provide personal liberties.
Five years after his presidency, Herbert Hoover traveled to Europe to receive humanitarian awards in 1938. While there, he met with Nazi leader Adolph Hitler for 40 minutes at the Reich Chancellery. The former president also stayed at Nazi minister Hermann Göring’s hunting lodge.
During his visit, Hoover expressed to Hitler his dismay at the persecution of Jews in Germany and spoke in favor of personal liberty. The dictator replied that unlike America, his country could not afford such liberties.
Next: Negotiations in a bedbug infested palace
2. Roosevelt meets Stalin
- “Let’s shoot the top 50,000 German officers,” Stalin told Roosevelt and Churchill.
Three of the most powerful men met over the future of the planet during World War II. U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill worked with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in leading the Allies against the Axis Powers. Roosevelt and Churchill agreed in 1943 to open a second front against Germany, and Stalin committed to enter the war against Japan.
The three met again in 1945 toward the end of the war. Inside a bedbug-ridden Crimean palace, under the influence of vodka, Stalin convinced Roosevelt and Churchill to make concessions about Poland’s borders. Stalin agreed to allow free elections in Eastern Europe, but he never came through on this promise. Due to this, Roosevelt was criticized as naïve.
Next: A famous U.S. president bullied by a Communist leader
3. Kennedy meets Khrushchev
- “He just beat the hell out of me,” Kennedy said after the summit.
In the early stages of the Cold War, confrontations with the Soviet Union dominated President John F. Kennedy’s foreign policy. Tensions brewed as he awaited a 1961 summit with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Other world leaders warned Kennedy not to be bullied by Khrushchev — yet that was exactly what happened.
Kennedy told the dictator he would consider it an act of war if the Soviets interfered with the U.S.’ access rights in West Berlin. Nevertheless, Khrushchev then signed a treaty with East Berlin that nullified the rights of any third parties occupying the city. Kennedy reacted by beefing up America’s defense budget, and the Cold War escalated.
Next: A 1980s president who preferred face-to-face meetings
4. Reagan meets Gorbachev
- When they finally signed a peace treaty, they began calling each other “Ron” and “Mikhail.”
In three Cold War-era meetings, President Ronald Reagan felt fostering a personal relationship with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev was the key to breaking down tensions. Both countries sought to cut the total number of nuclear weapons. Reagan emphasized similarities between the two superpowers as well as between him and Gorbachev.
A sticky point for Gorbachev was his request that Reagan limit his pet “Star Wars” project, which set out to shield the U.S. from nuclear attacks through space technology. Reagan refused to consider this, which complicated the talks. The two finally signed a missile treaty in 1987.
Next: George W. Bush strolled hand-in-hand with this world leader in Texas.
5. George W. Bush meets Crown Prince Abdullah
- The two held hands as they strolled at Bush’s Texas ranch.
In 2005, President George W. Bush hosted Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah at his Texas ranch. The White House was pushing the Saudis to step up oil production to ease prices. However, the leader of the world’s biggest crude exporter said supply was balanced with demand and market fundamentals were sound. Bush also sought to garner support for U.S. objectives in the Middle East.
Although Bush held friendly meetings with the prince, tensions also simmered between the two countries over the president’s strong support for Israel and his drive for more pressure on Iran.
Next: A former American president visited Kim Jong Il in recent history.
6. Clinton meets Kim Jong Il
- Clinton didn’t smile in the official photograph, and he warned his aides not to smile either.
In 2009, former President Bill Clinton met with former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, seeking release of two U.S. journalists imprisoned in North Korea. Officials in Pyongyang welcomed Clinton with flowers and hearty handshakes. After exhaustive talks, the North Korean dictator granted a pardon to Laura Ling and Euna Lee.
“We were told that we were going to a meeting,” Ling recalled after flying home with the former president. “When we walked through the doors, we saw standing before us President Bill Clinton.”
Next: A leader Obama hosted but later wanted out of office
7. Obama meets Mubarak
- Two years after hosting Mubarak, Obama supported his removal from power.
President Barack Obama hosted Hosni Mubarak at the White House in 2009. The military dictator had ruled Egypt since 1981 with a record of police-state torture. Obama’s purpose in the summit was to help achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinian people.
While the two met once more, Obama did an about-face in 2011 when he called for a transfer of power from Mubarak amid Egypt’s Arab Spring protests. After weeks of violent demonstrations, his regime was overthrown.
Next: How Trump and Putin described meeting face-to-face
8. Trump meets Putin
- Trump called the meeting “an honor” and Putin said he was “delighted.”
At the G20 summit in July 2017, Trump spent much of his time getting to know one particular summit-goer better: Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two planned to meet for half an hour yet stretched the meeting into two hours. They then spent another hour chatting with only a Kremlin interpreter present.
On a June 10, 2018 visit to China, Putin said he was ready for a more formal talk with Trump. “As soon as the American side is ready, this meeting will be held immediately, depending on my work schedule,” he said.
Next: While Clinton sought prisoners’ release, Trump is seeking something much bigger.
9. Trump meets Kim Jong Un
- They once called each other “little rocket man” and a “dotard,” but the two reached a historic agreement in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in a historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018. The two sides signed a joint statement following their meeting. Trump announced the U.S. would stop military exercises around the Korean peninsula. In turn, Kim committed to denuclearization.
“I think that he really wants to do a great job for North Korea,” Trump told ABC in his first posts-summit interview. “I think he wants to de-nuke … He wants to do the right thing.” Following the summit, Kim said, “The world will see a major change.”
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