HANOI/WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un will hold a second summit this week with no real expectation of a final deal on ridding the North of nuclear weapons, but raised hopes on Monday (Feb 25) for an official peace on the peninsula at long last.
The two leaders are due to meet in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, on Wednesday and Thursday, eight months after their historic summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.
At the time, Kim pledged to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but the vague agreement has produced few concrete results.
US Democratic senators and security officials have warned Trump against cutting a deal that would do little to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Trump left for Vietnam aboard Air Force One from Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington shortly after 12.30pm EST (1.30am Singapore time). He is due to arrive in Hanoi on Tuesday evening, local time.
Speaking in Washington on Sunday, Trump said he believed he saw eye-to-eye with Kim and that they had developed “a very, very good relationship”.
In a tweet on Monday, he stressed the benefits to North Korea if it gave up its nuclear weapons. “With complete Denuclearisation, North Korea will rapidly become an Economic Powerhouse. Without it, just more of the same. Chairman Kim will make a wise decision!” Trump said.
Trump told reporters on Monday that he and Kim would have “a very tremendous summit”.
“We want denuclearisation, and I think he’ll have a country that will set a lot of records for speed in terms of an economy,” he said.
Trump’s departure from Washington comes at a time of increased pressure at home.
Anticipation has been rising about the impending release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, although a senior US Justice Department official said on Friday it would not come this week.
Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen is due to testify in a public hearing before a US congressional committee on Wednesday and the panel’s chairman said Trump’s business practices would be a focus of the testimony.
In a speech on Sunday night, Trump appeared to play down any hope of a major breakthrough at the Hanoi summit, saying he would be happy as long as North Korea maintained its pause on weapons testing.
“I’m not in a rush. I don’t want to rush anybody,” he said.“I just don’t want testing. As long as there’s no testing, we’re happy.”
A South Korean presidential spokesman told reporters in Seoul the two sides might be able to agree to a formal end of the 1950 to 1953 Korean War, which the North has long called for as a major step towards normalising ties.
“The possibility is there,” the spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom told a briefing in Seoul.
North Korea conducted its last nuclear test, its sixth, in September 2017 and last tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017. Before that freeze, the North conducted a series of tests that it says has given it powerful nuclear bombs and missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.
The United States has for years demanded North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation before any concessions will be granted. North Korea denounced that stance as unilateral and “gangster like”.
But in recent days, Trump has signalled a possible softening, saying he would love to be able to remove tough sanctions if there was meaningful progress on denuclearisation.
Easing of punishing sanctions is a top priority for North Korea and it warned Trump on Sunday not to listen to US critics who it said were disrupting efforts to improve ties.
Trump himself has scoffed at those questioning his handling of North Korea, and added that Chinese President Xi Jinping has been supportive of US efforts.
Speculation that the Trump administration is open to a limited summit deal has raised expectations that the two sides might finally declare an end to a technical state of hostilities that has existed on the Korean peninsula since the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a truce.
In return, North Korea could allow international inspectors to observe the dismantlement of its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, analysts say.
The United States could also agree to opening US-North Korea liaison offices and allow some inter-Korean projects, provided the North takes steps toward denuclearisation.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN on Sunday that core economic sanctions “that prevent countries from conducting trade, creating wealth for North Korea... are definitely going to remain in place” until complete denuclearisation.
However, he suggested there could be concessions in other sanctions against North Korea, such as “exchanges of people, lots of other ways ... if we get a substantial step and move forward”.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, who supports opening up North Korea, praised both Trump and Kim in comments in Seoul, and said those opposed to better ties on the peninsula, and between North Korea and the United States, should “discard such biased perspectives”.
Vietnam has released few details about arrangements for the summit including its specific venue or timing. Kim is making his way to Vietnam by train and passed through the Chinese city of Hengyang at about 3.30pm local time, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported. That would have him arriving in Vietnam early on Tuesday.