North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump met in Vietnam on Wednesday for a second summit that the United States hopes will persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for promises of peace and development.
Trump tweeted after a dinner with Kim at Hanoi’s French-colonial-era Metropole hotel that they had had “Great meetings” and a “Very good dialogue,” while the White House said the two planned to sign a “joint agreement” after further talks on Thursday.
Kim and Trump shook hands and smiled briefly in front of a row of their national flags at the Metropole before heading to dinner together.
Trump told reporters he thought the talks would be very successful, and when asked if he was “walking back” on denuclearisation demands, said “no”.
At their historic first summit in Singapore last June, Trump and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearisation and permanent peace on the Korean peninsula but little progress has been made.
Kim said they had overcome obstacles to hold the second summit and praised Trump for his “courageous decision” to begin a dialogue.
“Now that we’re meeting here again like this, I’m confident that there will be an excellent outcome that everyone welcomes, and I’ll do my best to make it happen,” Kim said.
Trump and Kim held a 20-minute, one-on-one chat before sitting down to dinner with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Kim’s top envoy, Kim Yong Chol, and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.
On Thursday, the two leaders will hold a series of meetings at the Metropole, beginning with another one-on-one session lasting 45 minutes, the White House said.
It said they would hold a “joint agreement signing ceremony,” at the end of their meetings, followed by a news conference by Trump at 3:50 p.m. Hanoi time (0850 GMT).
The White House has given no indication as to what the signing ceremony might involve, although the two sides have held discussions that have included the possibility of a political statement to declare the 1950-53 Korean War over. North and South Korea have been technically at war since the conflict, with the Americans backing the South, ended in a truce, not a treaty.
Asked if he would declare a formal end to the Korean War, which North Korea has long called for, but some analysts say would be premature, Trump said: “We’ll see.”
“We’re going to have a very busy day tomorrow,” a smiling, relaxed-looking Trump, said before dinner, seated beside Kim at a round table with the other four officials and two interpreters.
“Our relationship is a very special relationship.”
Experts said the pair were at pains to show their relationship had improved since their first meeting, with their body language closely mirroring each other.
Trump said late last year he and Kim “fell in love”, but whether the bonhomie can move them beyond summit pageantry to substantive progress on eliminating Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States is the question that will dominate the talks.
Trump and Kim’s Singapore summit, the first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, ended with great fanfare but little substance over how to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
In the run-up to this summit, Trump has indicated a more flexible stance, saying he was in no rush to secure North Korea’s denuclearisation. He repeated that on Wednesday, saying while some people believed the talks should be moving more quickly, he was satisfied.
He has also said he would be happy as long as North Korea, which has not tested a nuclear weapon or intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, maintained that freeze.
Some critics have said Trump appeared to be wavering on a long-standing U.S. demand for complete and irreversible denuclearisation by North Korea, and risked squandering leverage if he gave away too much, too quickly.
Evans Revere, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea, said Trump was under pressure, given the criticism and other domestic problems, and Kim might try to use that.
“Kim may be tempted to push Trump even harder for concessions, knowing how much the president wants and needs that testing pause,” Revere said.
U.S. intelligence officials have said there is no sign North Korea will ever give up its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, which it sees as its guarantee of national security. Pyongyang will not commit to significant disarmament unless punishing U.S.-led economic sanctions are eased, analysts said.
The two sides have discussed specific and verifiable denuclearisation measures, such as allowing inspectors to observe the dismantlement of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor, U.S. and South Korean officials say.
U.S. concessions could include opening liaison offices or clearing the way for inter-Korean projects.
Despite little progress on his goal of ridding North Korea of its weapons programmes, Trump appeared to be betting on his personal relationship with Kim, and the economic incentive after 70 years of hostility between their countries.
“Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth. North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize,” Trump said on Twitter ahead of the meeting.
“The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un. We will know fairly soon – Very Interesting!”
For Trump, a deal that eases the North Korean threat could hand him a big foreign-policy achievement in the midst of domestic troubles.
While he was in Hanoi, Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen delivered scathing testimony to a U.S. congressional panel, including that “Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great.”
Cohen referred to a comment Trump made to him about avoiding the U.S. military draft for the Vietnam War on medical grounds: “‘You think I’m stupid, I wasn’t going to Vietnam’,” Cohen cited Trump as saying.
“I find it ironic, President Trump, that you are in Vietnam right now,” Cohen said.
Trump said on Twitter that Cohen was lying to reduce his prison time. Cohen pleaded guilty to financial crimes and lying to Congress last year and a judge sentenced him to three years prison, a term he is due to start on March 6.