Kim Jong Un sets off by train for Vietnam

Workers using flowers to form the US national flag at the North Korea-US summit media centre in Hanoi yesterday. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who reportedly left Pyongyang in an armoured train yesterday, could take at least 21/2 days to travel th
Workers using flowers to form the US national flag at the North Korea-US summit media centre in Hanoi yesterday. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who reportedly left Pyongyang in an armoured train yesterday, could take at least 21/2 days to travel the thousands of kilometres through China to Vietnam.PHOTO: REUTERS

HANOI • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un set off by train for Vietnam yesterday for his second summit with US President Donald Trump, to take place this week, Russia's Tass news agency reported.

The report came hours after Vietnam announced that Mr Kim would make an official visit in the "coming days", as the South-east Asian country prepares to host the summit on Wednesday and Thursday.

No details of the leaders' travel arrangements, or for the summit, have been officially released.

A landmark first summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim in Singapore last June led to a promise by Mr Kim to work towards complete denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula. But progress has been scant.

Mr Kim left the North Korean capital of Pyongyang at around 5pm in an armoured train, Tass said, citing a North Korean diplomatic source.

North Korea's state media has yet to confirm either Mr Kim's trip to Vietnam or his summit with Mr Trump.

It could take Mr Kim at least 21/2 days to travel the thousands of kilometres through China by train to Vietnam.

 
 

Mr Kim's train reportedly crossed the Chinese city of Dandong late yesterday, where guests at a hotel facing the border bridge from North Korea were suddenly asked to leave last Friday. The hotel was closed yesterday for impromptu renovations.

His train is expected to stop at the Vietnamese border station of Dong Dang, where he will disembark and travel the 170km to Hanoi by car, sources said earlier.

Meanwhile, Mr Kim reportedly told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he did not want his children to live with the burden of nuclear weapons, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer involved in high-level diplomacy over North Korea's weapons was quoted as saying yesterday.

Mr Kim made the rare personal comments when Mr Pompeo visited Pyongyang in April last year to lay the groundwork for the summit in June, said former CIA official Andrew Kim, as reported by South Korea's Yonhap news agency and the Wall Street Journal.

Mr Andrew Kim said the North Korean leader, when asked whether he was willing to end his nuclear programme, told Mr Pompeo: "I'm a father and a husband. And I have children."

" 'And I don't want my children to carry the nuclear weapon on their backs their whole life.' That was his answer," Mr Andrew Kim said at a lecture at Stanford University's Asia-Pacific Research Centre, where he is a visiting scholar.

Before he retired from the CIA, Mr Andrew Kim established the agency's Korea Mission Centre in April 2017, and accompanied Mr Pompeo - who was then CIA director - to Pyongyang last year.

Mr Kim Jong Un is visiting Vietnam at the invitation of President Nguyen Phu Trong, who is also general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said in a statement earlier yesterday.

Vietnamese police have stepped up security around the border station ahead of the North Korean leader's arrival.

Soldiers were deployed to Dong Dang train station yesterday and along the road to Hanoi, said Agence France-Presse reporters at the scene, who saw several military vehicles and communications equipment in the area.

Security personnel tried to prevent anyone from taking photos and videos in the area, and soldiers screened everyone who entered Dong Dang station.

On Tuesday, Vietnam will ban traffic on the road that Mr Kim is expected to take to Hanoi from the station, state media said.

The preferred location for the summit is the Government Guesthouse, a colonial-era building in central Hanoi, three sources said last Wednesday.

They said the Metropole Hotel would be a backup venue and Mr Kim could possibly stay at the Melia hotel. A Reuters witness saw workers laying communication cables in the streets behind the Metropole late last Friday.

At the same time, some foreign media organisations have received a note from Vietnam's Foreign Ministry prohibiting live broadcasts in and around the Melia hotel and Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre of Hanoi.

The JW Marriott hotel, where Mr Trump is widely expected to stay, will also be out of bounds to live broadcasts, according to a copy of the note reviewed by Reuters. Several hotels around Hoan Kiem Lake said they had been told by the authorities to restrict access to their rooftops.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 24, 2019, with the headline 'Kim sets off by train for Vietnam'. Print Edition | Subscribe