Trump and Kim share smiles, friendly dinner before N-talks

Trump has been trying to convince Kim that his nation could thrive economically like Vietnam if he would end his nuclear weapons programme.
Photo of  US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s 
Kim Jong-un before  the commencement of the nuclear summit.

HANOI: US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, leaders of two nations with a long history of hostility, opened their second summit on Wednesday with smiles, hopeful talk and a friendly dinner that set the stage for the much more difficult talks to come about curbing North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

 Facing widespread skepticism about whether they can solve a problem that has bedeviled generations of diplomats and officials, the two men exchanged a warm handshake before a phalanx of alternating American and North Korean flags before holding a 30-minute one-on-one talk. Their talks will continue on Thursday. 

“A lot of things are going to be solved I hope,” Trump said as dinner began. “I think it will lead to a wonderful, really a wonderful situation long-term.” Kim, for his part, said that his country had long been “misunderstood” and viewed with “distrust.” 

 “There have been efforts, whether out of hostility or not, to block the path that we intend to take,” he said. “But we have overcome all these and walked toward each other again and we’ve now reached Hanoi after 261 days” since their first meeting in Singapore. “We have met again here and I am confident that we can achieve great results that everyone welcomes.” 

For all of the optimistic talk in front of the cameras, there was concern that Trump, eager for an agreement, would give Kim too much and get too little in return — perhaps a peace declaration for the Korean War that the North could use to eventually push for the reduction of US troops in South Korea, or sanctions relief that could allow Pyongyang to pursue lucrative economic projects with the South.

 A deal like this, skeptics say, would leave in place a significant portion of North Korea’s nuclear-tipped missiles while robbing the US of its negotiating leverage going forward: If the North has already gotten a good deal of what it wanted, and kept part of its nuclear programme, what would be the point of giving up the rest? Asked if this summit would yield a political declaration to end the Korean War, Trump told reporters: “We’ll see.”

 The two were joined for dinner by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Kim Yong-chol, a former military spy chief and Kim’s point man in negotiations, and North Korean foreign affairs minister Ri Yong-ho.

 The White House also restricted press access to portions of Trump’s meeting with Kim. Four print reporters were barred from a press availability as Trump sat down for dinner with Kim. 

That came after two of those reporters asked questions of the president during earlier events at the summit, including one query about the congressional testimony from Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, that was critical of the president. 

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that due to the “sensitive nature of the meetings we have limited the pool for dinner to a smaller group”. Anticipation for what could be accomplished at the summit ran high in Hanoi. But the carnival-like atmosphere in the Vietnamese capital, contrasted with the serious items on their agenda: North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and peace on the Korean Peninsula. 

Trump has been trying to convince Kim that his nation could thrive economically like Vietnam if he would end his nuclear weapons programme. “I think that your country has tremendous economic potential — unbelievable, unlimited,” Trump said. “I think that you will have a tremendous future with your country — a great leader — and I look forward to watching it happen and helping it to happen.”

 The summit venue, the Sofitel Legend Metropole, came with its own dose of history: Trump was trying to talk Kim into giving up his nuclear arsenal at a hotel with a bomb shelter that protected the likes of actress Jane Fonda and singer Joan Baez from American air raids during the Vietnam War.

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