HANOI, Vietnam — President Trump warmly greeted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday at the start of their second denuclearization summit, predicting that their “great relationship” will lead to fruitful negotiations over the North’s nuclear weapons.
“I think it’ll be very successful,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “The biggest progress is our relationship is really a good one.”
He told Mr. Kim that North Korea has “tremendous economic potential” from eased international sanctions if he agrees to abandon its weapons and missile programs, which analysts say can now deliver a nuclear bomb to much of the U.S. homeland.
As the two leaders sat down again Thursday morning in Hanoi, Mr. Trump tried to play down short-term expectations.
“I can’t speak for today, but over a little bit longer term .. we’re going to have a fantastic success,” the president said. “Speed is not that important to me. I very much appreciate no [missile] testing. I am not in a rush.”
Asked if he was confident of a deal, Mr. Kim replied through a translator, “It’s too early to say. I would not say I’m pessimistic. I have a feeling that good results will come.”
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The heavy lifting of the two-day summit to address the crisis on the divided Korean Peninsula was planned for Thursday, when the two delegations will try to hammer out a deal to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile arsenals and ease more than six decades of hostility and suspicion between the U.S. and North Korea.
Mr. Kim thanked the president for his “courageous decision” to negotiate with him personally and said there have been “some misunderstandings” since their precedent-shattering first meeting in Singapore in June.
“There have been all these eyes from the world who are misunderstanding the situation,” said Mr. Kim, referring to “hostility” lingering from the Korean War. “However, we have been able to overcome all the obstacles, and here we are today after 261 days.”
Despite the questions surrounding the summit, the White House official schedule for Thursday has blocked out time for a “joint agreement signing ceremony” followed by a news conference by Mr. Trump.
Amid high intrigue — and with much of Washington transfixed by the daylong congressional testimony of former Trump attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen, the two leaders arrived at dusk at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel in separate motorcades and shook hands in front of a bank of U.S. and North Korean flags. They chatted briefly and smiled for news cameras.
“I thought the first summit was a great success, and I think this one hopefully will be equal or greater than the first,” Mr. Trump told his counterpart, whom he called a “great leader.”
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Then, with only their two interpreters present, the leaders huddled for 30 minutes in a conference room for a private initial discussion.
Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump later shared a 90-minute dinner of shrimp cocktail, grilled sirloin and chocolate lava cake joined by a small group of aides: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on the U.S. side, and Kim Yong-chol, a former intelligence chief and Mr. Kim’s point man in negotiations and North Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Ri Yong-ho.
Outside the hotel, thousands of spectators and journalists thronged the security perimeter to get glimpses of the leaders and their entourages.
Mr. Kim said that since their initial meeting last summer, he went through a time in which “I agonized … and have more patience than at any time.”
“I am confident that such a great outcome will come out this time which can be welcomed by everyone, and I will do my best to this end,” he said.
The White House billed Wednesday’s meeting as mainly a casual event, with the tougher talks to come Thursday.
Mr. Trump earlier in the day called Mr. Kim “my friend” on Twitter. In 2017, Mr. Trump taunted Mr. Kim as “Little Rocket Man” when North Korea was launching test missiles and tensions over a possible shooting war soared across East Asia.
Even as Mr. Trump was negotiating over one of the world’s most urgent security threats, the president also was paying attention to developments in Washington. He fired back on Twitter after Mr. Cohen told a House committee that his former employer was a “con man,” a “cheater” and a “racist.”
“Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately),” Mr. Trump tweeted just hours before his first meeting with Mr. Kim. “He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
As the president and Mr. Kim headed into the crucial part of the summit, Democrats and some private analysts expressed fears that Mr. Trump, in his eagerness to strike a deal, will ease sanctions or give other concessions to Mr. Kim without getting anything concrete in return.
“The fact that Trump wants a deal so bad and is such a terrible negotiator should scare us all heading into the summit with Kim,” tweeted Sen. Christopher Murphy, Connecticut Democrat and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The president said ahead of the meeting that his critics and the media were in the dark. He criticized “false reporting (guessing) on my intentions.”
“Kim Jong Un and I will try very hard to work something out on denuclearization & then making North Korea an Economic Powerhouse,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “I believe that China, Russia, Japan & South Korea will be very helpful!”
Sources close to the negotiations have told The Washington Times that success would be reached if any joint statement from the summit includes an indication that North Korea will allow international inspectors into the country to examine nuclear sites.
If the joint statement does not include that word, then the next best thing would be for Mr. Kim to say “inspectors” during a likely post-summit press conference on Thursday, the sources said.
While U.S. officials have praised their Vietnamese hosts for the organization of the summit, there have been some hiccups.
Some U.S. reporters covering the event as part of Mr. Trump’s media pool were excluded from the meeting with Mr. Kim, apparently over annoyance with reporters’ shouted questions concerning Mr. Cohen. Only one newspaper reporter was allowed to cover the leaders’ final comments of the evening. TV, radio and wire service reporters were barred, and White House Correspondents’ Association President Olivier Knox said the press corps “strenuously objects to [this] capricious decision.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the move, citing the “sensitive nature of the meetings.”
“We are continuing to negotiate aspects of this historic summit and will always work to make sure the U.S. media has as much access as possible,” she said.
Objects of curiosity
Outside the meeting site, there was an atmosphere of fascination and excitement among the crowd of people who waited for the two leaders.
“The two most talked-about men in the world are coming,” said Davin Reid, a 29-year-old Canadian who was among thousands packing around an intersection near the hotel’s entrance.
“I want to see Kim Jong-un,” said Mr. Reid’s girlfriend, Kailyn Leckie, 23. “He’s just a fascinating human.”
“We’re not fans,” Mr. Reid added quickly. “It’s just a morbid curiosity. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Clark University professor Srinivasan Sitaraman, a specialist on U.S. foreign policy, said the summit’s first day left key questions unanswered about what Mr. Trump hopes to achieve in Hanoi to build on the vague promises the two men made in Singapore.
“We’re still left without knowing if there is an accepted definition of denuclearization between the two parties going into the summit,” he said Wednesday. “It is critical that the United States and North Korea at least arrive at an accepted definition of denuclearization at this summit to establish that the two parties are not talking past each other.”
Questions of verification and timing on ending the North’s nuclear problem also hang over the talks.
“Early indications from the summit suggest that it would probably be a little premature to expect such developments,” Mr. Sitaraman said.
Some observers also worried that Mr. Trump could agree to a peace declaration on the Korean War, which ended in 1953 in a legal stalemate, without gaining anything in return. Bruce Klingner, former CIA Korea deputy division chief and an analyst with The Heritage Foundation, said such a concession could end up “reducing U.S. deterrence and defense capabilities, and abrogating the mutual defense treaty before reducing the North Korean threat.”
“North Korea argues that the U.S. must prove an end to its ‘hostile policy,’ but it is North Korea that has habitually threatened, attacked and killed U.S. and South Korean personnel,” Mr. Klingner said. “The U.S. has already repeatedly provided non-hostility declarations and promises not to attack North Korea.”
Mr. Trump emphasized again Wednesday his belief that the largely isolated North Korea stands to enjoy unprecedented prosperity if Mr. Kim commits to clear steps toward dismantling his uranium and plutonium processing plants and destroy his arsenal of missiles.
Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Trump praised Vietnam for its “thriving” economy as he signed a trade deal with Vietnamese leaders and sought to persuade Mr. Kim to follow Hanoi’s example.
Meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Mr. Trump signed agreements calling for Vietnam to purchase more than 100 passenger airliners from Seattle-based Boeing Inc., a deal worth about $21 billion.
“You really are an example of what can happen with good thinking,” Mr. Trump told Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong and other officials.
Mr. Trump also said approvingly that Vietnam is interested in purchasing U.S.-made military equipment.
At a luncheon with Vietnamese officials, Mr. Trump said greater cooperation from Mr. Kim would “make North Korea into a great economic power.”