February 27, 2019
By Jeff Mason and Soyoung Kim
HANOI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will hold another day of talks at their second summit in eight months on Thursday, after swapping compliments at a dinner but giving no sign of progress on the key issue of denuclearization.
Trump hailed “a very special relationship” when he met Kim in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi on Wednesday and said he was satisfied with the pace of talks, despite some criticism they were not moving quickly enough.
“Great meetings” and a “Very good dialogue,” Trump said on Twitter after dinner with Kim at Hanoi’s French-colonial-era Metropole hotel while the White House said the two planned to sign a “joint agreement” after further talks on Thursday.
The White House has given no indication of what the signing ceremony might involve, although the two sides’ discussions have included the possibility of a political statement to declare the 1950-53 Korean War over, which some critics say would be premature.
They have also discussed partial denuclearization measures, such as allowing inspectors to observe the dismantling 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, but critics say Trump risks squandering vital leverage if he gives away too much, too quickly.
The Hanoi summit was Trump’s second with Kim since an inconclusive meeting in Singapore in June that produced much fanfare but little substance and there had been little sign of concrete progress since.
The U.S. president nevertheless appeared upbeat with Kim even as his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen testified at a congressional hearing in Washington, calling Trump a “conman” who knew in advance about the release of stolen emails aimed at hurting his Democratic rival in the 2016 election campaign.
Facing mounting pressure at home over investigations into Russian meddling in the election, Trump has sought a big win by trying to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for promises of peace and development, a foreign policy goal that has confounded multiple predecessors.
Trump told Kim on Wednesday he felt the first summit was “very successful”. “Some people would like to see it go quicker; I’m satisfied; you’re satisfied, we want to be happy with what we’re doing.”
TRUMP SAYS NOT WALKING BACK
Asked by a reporter if he was “walking back” on denuclearization demands, Trump said, “No”.
Trump and Kim held a 20-minute, one-on-one chat before a dinner that also involved 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 have a series of meetings scheduled at the Metropole, beginning with another one-on-one session lasting 45 minutes, the White House said.
After a “joint agreement signing ceremony” Trump plans a news conference at 3:50 p.m. Hanoi time (0850 GMT).
Asked if he would declare a formal end to the Korean War, which concluded with an armistice, rather than a peace treaty that North Korea has long sought, Trump said on Wednesday: “We’ll see.”
The June meeting was the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. It produced a joint statement in which Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the two sides committed to establish new ties and build a permanent peace regime.
But there has been little progress since.
Kim said on Wednesday the leaders had overcome obstacles to meet a second time and praised Trump for his “courageous decision” to begin a dialogue, adding that he was “confident that there will be an excellent outcome that everyone welcomes”.
Trump said late last year he and Kim “fell in love”, but whether bonhomie can move them beyond summit pageantry to substantive progress on eliminating a North Korean nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States is a big question.
Trump indicated a more flexible stance in the run-up to Hanoi, saying he was in no rush as long as North Korea, which has not tested a nuclear weapon or intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, maintained that freeze.
U.S. intelligence officials have said there is no sign North Korea will give up its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, which Kim’s ruling family sees as vital to its survival, and analysts say Pyongyang is unlikely to commit to significant steps without an easing of punishing U.S.-led sanctions.
Trump has 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.
(For live coverage of the summit, click: https://www.reuters.com/live/north-korea; Eikon SUMMIT LIVE; Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Jeff Mason in HANOI; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin, James Pearson, Mai Nyugen, Ju-min Park, Khanh Vu, Josh Smith in HANOI, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Editing by Grant McCool and Clarence Fernandez)