HANOI/WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump headed for Vietnam on Monday for a second summit with Kim Jong-un, having stressed the benefits to Pyongyang if the North Korean leader gives up his nuclear weapons, but saying there was no rush.
Trump and Kim 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 US president and a North Korean leader.
While there is no real expectation that the second meeting will bring a final deal on ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons that threaten the United States, there are some hopes it could bring a declaration that the 1950-53 Korean War is at last formally over. The war ended with an armistice, not a truce.
In Singapore, Kim pledged to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but the vague agreement struck there has produced few concrete results. US Democratic senators and security officials have warned Trump against cutting a deal that would do little to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Trump left for Vietnam aboard Air Force One from Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington shortly after 12.30pm EST (1730 GMT) on Monday. He is due to arrive in Hanoi on Tuesday evening, local time.
Speaking in Washington on Sunday, Trump 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, he stressed the benefits to North Korea if it gave up its nuclear weapons. “With complete Denuclearisation, North Korea will rapidly become an Economic Powerhouse. Without it, just more of the same. Chairman Kim will make a wise decision!” Trump said.
Trump told reporters he and Kim would have “a very tremendous summit.”
“We want denuclearisation, and I think he’ll have a country that will set a lot of records for speed in terms of an economy,” Trump said.
However, in a speech on Sunday night, Trump appeared to play down any hope of a major breakthrough at the Hanoi summit, 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.”
North Korea conducted its last nuclear test in Sept 2017 and last tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in Nov 2017.
Trump’s departure from Washington comes at a time of increased pressure at home.
Anticipation has been rising about the impending release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, although a senior US Justice Department official said on Friday it would not come this week.
Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen is due to testify in a public hearing before a US congressional committee on Wednesday and the panel’s chairman said Trump’s business practices would be a focus of the testimony.
A South Korean presidential spokesman told reporters in Seoul the two sides might be able to agree to a formal end of the Korean War, which the North has long called for as a major step towards normalising ties.
“The possibility is there,” the spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom told a briefing in Seoul.
Before its testing halt, the North conducted a series of tests that it says has given it the capability of reaching the US mainland with nuclear weapons.
The United States has for years demanded North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation before any concessions will be granted. North Korea denounced that stance as unilateral and “gangster like.”
In recent days, Trump has signalled a possible softening, saying he would love to be able to remove tough sanctions if there was meaningful progress on denuclearisation.
Easing of punishing sanctions is a top priority for North Korea and it warned Trump on Sunday not to listen to US critics who it said were disrupting efforts to improve ties.
Trump has scoffed at those questioning his handling of North Korea, and added that Chinese President Xi Jinping has been supportive of US efforts.
Speculation that the Trump administration is open to a limited summit deal has raised expectations that the two sides might finally declare a formal end to a technical state of hostilities that has existed on the Korean peninsula.
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 US-North Korea liaison offices and allow some inter-Korean projects, provided the North takes steps toward denuclearisation.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN on Sunday that core economic sanctions “that prevent countries from conducting trade, creating wealth for North Korea … are definitely going to remain in place” until complete denuclearisation.
However, he suggested there could be other concessions toward North Korea, such as “exchanges of people, lots of other ways … if we get a substantial step and move forward.”
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, who supports opening up North Korea, praised both Trump and Kim, saying those opposed to better ties on the peninsula, and between North Korea and the United States, should “discard such biased perspectives”.
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 3.30pm local time (0730 GMT), South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported. That would have him arriving in Vietnam early on Tuesday.