US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiled, shook hands and dined Wednesday in Hanoi, expressing optimism that their highly personal brand of diplomacy will lead to a deal on the totalitarian state’s nuclear weapons.
At the start of around two hours of talks and dinner at a luxury hotel in the Vietnamese capital, Trump predicted a “very successful” summit, now due to resume Thursday.
The two-day get-together is following up on the leaders’ initial historic meeting in Singapore in June, where Trump launched his charm offensive to try and get Kim to give up his nuclear arsenal.
Shaking hands and smiling in front of a bank of a dozen alternating US and North Korean flags, they briefly took questions from reporters before starting one-on-one talks, then the dinner.
Critics said the Singapore summit was light on concrete results but Trump said the Hanoi talks would be “equal or better than the first” time. Kim said: “I am certain that a great outcome will be achieved this time that will be welcomed by all people.”
Earlier, Trump sent a tweet touting North Korea’s “AWESOME” potential if his “friend” Kim agrees to relinquish his weapons.
But the president risks being distracted by scandal back in Washington, where his former lawyer Michael Cohen was set to describe him as a “conman” in nationally televised, bombshell testimony to Congress starting shortly after Trump got back to his hotel on the other side of the world.
Asked by reporters if he had any reaction to Cohen’s testimony, Trump simply shook his head.
There was also tension over reporters’ access to the event, with White House staff taking the highly unusual step of barring correspondents from the usual pool that travels with the president.
Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders blamed “the sensitive nature of the meetings” for the limitations.
Seeking a big foreign policy win to push back against domestic troubles, Trump believes he can make history with North Korea and claims Japan’s prime minister has already nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize.
His goal is to persuade Kim to dismantle his nuclear weapons and resolve a stand-off with the deeply isolated state that has bedevilled US leaders since the end of the Korean war in 1953.
To lure Kim into radical change, Trump is believed to be considering offering a formal peace declaration — though perhaps not a formal treaty — to draw a line under the technically still unfinished war.
At the same time, Washington faces mounting pressure to extract significant concessions from Kim, who has so far shown little desire to ditch his nuclear capability.
Washington and Pyongyang disagree even on what denuclearisation means precisely. And while North Korea has now gone more than a year without conducting missile and nuclear tests, it has done nothing to roll back the weapons already built.
A former real estate tycoon who often boasts he is one of the world’s best negotiators, Trump is pitching a vision of North Korea as a new Asian economic tiger if it surrenders its nuclear status.
Before Singapore, they were slinging bizarre insults — Trump calling Kim “rocket man” and Kim calling him a “dotard.”
With North Korea then busily testing missiles and conducting underground nuclear tests, analysts feared the duo were egging each other on towards a catastrophic confrontation.
Now, Trump talks of “love” and claims that his ground-breaking policies defused the threat posed by Kim.
Critics warn Trump is so keen to score a deal that he could give away too much, too quickly, endangering US allies South Korea and Japan.
In Singapore, Trump took his own generals by surprise when he announced a suspension of military exercises with the South — something the North badly wanted.
Washington would ideally like Kim to dismantle a key nuclear facility at Yongbyon, allow in international inspectors, or even hand over a list of all his nuclear assets — something the North Koreans have categorically refused to do.
In return, Trump is believed to be considering dangling relief from tough international sanctions. Opening diplomatic liaison offices is another possible US concession.
Another possibility is a joint declaration to end the Korean War — a hugely symbolic gesture which some analysts fear would upset the delicate power balance in a region where the US and China are already struggling for influence.