HANOI (Reuters) – U.S. 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 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 U.S. president and a North Korean leader.
At the time, they pledged to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but their vague agreement has produced few results. U.S. Democratic senators and security officials have warned Trump against cutting a deal that would do little to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Trump, speaking in Washington on the eve of his departure for Vietnam, 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, Trump stressed the benefits to North Korea if it gave up its nuclear weapons.
“With complete Denuclearization, North Korea will rapidly become an Economic Powerhouse. Without it, just more of the same. Chairman Kim will make a wise decision!”
A South Korean presidential spokesman told reporters in Seoul the two sides might agree to a formal end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which the North has long called for as a major step towards normalizing ties.
A person walks past a banner showing North Korean and U.S. flags ahead of the North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
“The possibility is there,” the spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom told a briefing in Seoul when asked if an end-of-war declaration was on the agenda.
In a speech on Sunday night, Trump appeared to play down any hope of a major breakthrough, 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.”
Trump is expected to leave for Vietnam at about 12:30 p.m. EST (1730 GMT).
North Korea conducted its last nuclear test, its sixth, in September 2017. It 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 U.S. mainland.
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The United States has for years demanded North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, before any concessions will be granted. North Korea denounced that stance as unilateral and “gangster like”.
But in recent days, Trump has signaled a possible softening, saying he would love to be able to remove tough sanctions if there was meaningful progress on denuclearization.
Trump said he and Kim expected to make progress at the summit. He scoffed at critics of his handling of North Korea, and added that Chinese President Xi Jinping has been supportive of U.S. efforts.
Speculation that the Trump administration is open to a limited deal at the summit has raised expectations 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 U.S.-North Korea liaison offices and allow some inter-Korean projects, provided the North takes steps toward denuclearization.
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”.
Trump is scheduled to arrive in Vietnam on Tuesday evening, Vietnam’s foreign ministry said. On Wednesday morning, Trump is set to meet Vietnam President Nguyen Phu Trong, who is also general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, the ministry said.
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 3.30 p.m. (0730 GMT), South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
That means he would be due to arrive in Vietnam early on Tuesday. No official details of his travel have been released.
(For live coverage of the summit, click: here)
Additional reporting by Mai Nguyen and Josh Smith in HANOI and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Bill Berkrot