Donald Trump keen to hold in-depth talks with Kim Jong Un: US officials

He is likely to discuss the future North Korea will have if it follows through on commitment

President Donald Trump impersonator Russel White (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un impersonator Howard X posing together for photographs outside the Opera House in Hanoi yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may again meet one on one and share meals at their summit in Hanoi next week, according to American officials.

The leaders will also take part in extended meetings of their delegations at the summit, which will be similar in format to their first meeting in Singapore on June 12 last year.

"President Trump is looking to, after really in some respects breaking the ice with Kim in June, talk in more depth about the kind of future North Korea could enjoy if it follows through on its commitment to the final and full denuclearisation," a senior administration official said during a background call on the summit.

The Trump administration's negotiators, including special envoy Stephen Biegun, arrived in Hanoi on Thursday morning and are in talks with their North Korean counterparts to close the gap on various issues before their leaders meet next Wednesday and Thursday.

The negotiating team is looking to advance each of the four pillars laid out in Singapore last June, namely transforming relations between the US and North Korea, establishing a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula, the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and the return of the remains of American troops missing or killed in action during the Korean War.

Another high priority is to advance a shared understanding between Washington and Pyongyang of what denuclearisation is, said an official.

The President's goal remains the final and full denuclearisation of North Korea, the officials stressed.

"It is ultimately about the denuclearisation of North Korea... that is the overriding goal that President Trump is seeking to achieve with this summit. This is an important step towards that ultimate goal," said an official.

Mr Trump said on Tuesday that he was in no rush for North Korea to denuclearise as long as it ultimately did so.

Clarifying the remarks, an official said: "When the President says he is in no hurry, it doesn't mean he hasn't directed us to fully engage with the North Koreans... He definitely recognises the importance of the issue and has encouraged us to move it along as far as we can."

The US also continues to seek a full declaration from North Korea on its nuclear and missile programmes, though not right away.

"Eventually, we are going to need a full declaration in order to complete the process of denuclearisation, though I expect that will come well before the end. It is basically the international standard on how one can go about addressing the issue of elimination of weapons of mass destruction," said an official.

The withdrawal of US troops from South Korea was not a subject of discussions, said officials.

Asked if the North Koreans were negotiating in good faith, an official replied: "I definitely think we are having a real negotiation. Not everybody puts the bottom line on the table in the first round of negotiations. It will be an ongoing process of give and take while we try to tease out what is the full commitment."

He added: "I don't know if North Korea has made the choice yet to denuclearise, but the reason why we are engaged in this is we believe there is the possibility that North Korea will make the choice to fully denuclearise."

In a television interview on Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that complete denuclearisation remains the goal, and rejected the idea of any compromises.

"That is what we need to get for the American people. To keep the American people safe, we have to reduce the threat from a nuclear-armed North Korea, and then in turn, we can work on peace and security on the peninsula and a brighter future for the North Korean people," Mr Pompeo said in the NBC interview.

He also said sanctions on North Korea will remain in place for now.

"The American people should know we have the toughest economic sanctions that have ever been placed on North Korea, and we won't release that pressure until such time as we are confident that we have substantially reduced that risk," said Mr Pompeo.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2019, with the headline Donald Trump keen to hold in-depth talks with Kim Jong Un: US officials. Subscribe