HANOI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump hailed North Korea’s “awesome” potential on Wednesday and said leader Kim Jong Un wanted to do something great, hours before they were due to meet in Vietnam to try to break a stalemate over the North’s nuclear weapons.
Despite little progress on his goal of ridding North Korea of its weapons programs, Trump appeared to be betting on his personal relationship with North Korea’s young leader, 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, the morning after he arrived in Hanoi for a second summit with Kim.
“The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un. We will know fairly soon – Very Interesting!”
He later said he was looking forward to the talks with Kim.
“He wants to do something great,” he said.
Trump and Kim will meet at the Metropole hotel at 6:30 p.m. for a 20-minute, one-on-one chat followed by a dinner with aides, the White House said.
Trump would be accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Kim will be joined by his top envoy, Kim Yong Chol, and Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.
The elegant interior of the 118-year-old Metropole thronged with security and diplomatic personnel from both sides – some snapping pictures – as hotel staff set up tables in a hotel lounge bar.
On Thursday, the two leaders will hold “a series of back and forth” meetings, the White House said. The venue has not been announced.
Trump said late last year he and Kim “fell in love”, and on the eve of his departure for the second summit said they had developed “a very, very good relationship”.
Whether the bonhomie can move them beyond summit pageantry to substantive progress on eliminating Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States is the question that will dominate the talks.
Trump met Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong at the grand, colonial-era presidential palace and they affirmed the need for progress towards final, fully verified denuclearization by North Korea, Pompeo said on Twitter.
The two presidents also presided over the formal signing of deals by Vietnamese carriers VietJet and Bamboo Airways with Boeing Co to buy 110 planes worth more than $15 billion.
At their historic first summit in Singapore last June, Trump and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean peninsula. North and South Korea have been technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict, with the Americans backing the South, ended in a truce, not a treaty.
That first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader ended with great fanfare but little substance over how to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
U.S. intelligence officials have said there is no sign North Korea will ever give up its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, which it sees as its guarantee of national security. Analysts say it won’t commit to significant disarmament unless punishing U.S.-led economic sanctions are eased.
In the run-up to the summit, Trump has indicated a more flexible stance, saying he was in no rush to secure North Korea’s denuclearization. He has held out the prospect of easing sanctions if North Korea does something “meaningful”.
The two sides have discussed specific and verifiable denuclearization measures, such as allowing inspectors to observe the dismantlement of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor, U.S. and South Korean officials say.
U.S. concessions could include opening liaison offices, ending the war or clearing the way for inter-Korean projects.
Any deal will face scrutiny from American lawmakers and other skeptics who doubt North Korea is willing to give up the weapons.
Trump derides the doubters, citing a freeze in North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests since 2017, and saying the United States would have gone to war with North Korea if he had not been president.
“Kim Jong Un and I will try very hard to work something out on Denuclearization & then making North Korea an Economic Powerhouse,” Trump said on Twitter. “I believe that China, Russia, Japan & South Korea will be very helpful!”
Whatever the outcome, the summit should boost Kim’s bid to end his country’s pariah status – despite its dire record on human rights – and cement his place, both on the world stage and at home.
For Trump, a deal that eases the North Korean threat could hand him a big foreign-policy achievement in the midst of domestic troubles.
While he is in Hanoi, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen is testifying before U.S. congressional committees, with the president’s business practices the main focus.
Cohen, in wide-ranging testimony he is due to deliver on Wednesday, refers to a comment Trump made to him about avoiding the U.S. military draft for the Vietnam War on medical grounds: “‘You think I’m stupid, I wasn’t going to Vietnam’,” Cohen cited Trump as saying.
“I find it ironic, President Trump, that you are in Vietnam right now,” Cohen said in a draft statement seen by Reuters.
Trump, responding to the statement on Twitter, said Cohen was lying to reduce his prison time.
(For live coverage of the summit, click: here)
Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Jeff Mason in HANOI.; Editing by Robert Birsel and Lincoln Feast