Trump and Kim may meet one-on-one in Hanoi: US official

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their first summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018. Mr Trump will meet Mr Kim one-on-one in Hanoi over North Korea's nuclear arsenal, according to senior administration officials.
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their first summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018. Mr Trump will meet Mr Kim one-on-one in Hanoi over North Korea's nuclear arsenal, according to senior administration officials.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

WASHINGTON - United StatesPresident Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will have the chance to share meals and meet one-on-one at their summit in Hanoi next week, said a senior administration official on Thursday (Feb 21).

They will also take part in extended meetings of their delegations at the Hanoi 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,” said the official 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 ahead of the summit next Wednesday and Thursday (Feb 27 and 28).

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, 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’s 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's 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’re 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.

“I don’t know if North Korea has made the choice yet to denuclearise but the reason why we’re engaged in this is we believe there is the possibility that North Korea will make the choice to fully denuclearise,” he added.

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

“That’s 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 an NBC interview.

He also added that 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’re confident that we’ve substantially reduced that risk,” said Mr Pompeo.