North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump met at Hanoi’s Metropole Hotel on Wednesday evening, kicking off a high-stakes second summit expected to last until Thursday.
The two met at 1828 local time, with Trump commenting that he hoped this week’s summit will be “equally or greater than the first.”
“I think that your country has tremendous economic potential,” the U.S. President told the DPRK leader.
“And 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, and we will help it to happen.”
He then suggested he would hold a press conference tomorrow, while refraining from answering further questions from journalists.
Kim Jong Un, in turn, told Trump that since their first meeting, he had been 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 two leaders then held a twenty-minute one-on-one meeting, followed by a “social dinner” in which Trump was accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
The North Korean leader, in turn, was joined by vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s (WPK) Central Committee Kim Yong Chol and foreign minister Ri Yong Ho.
“I shared a lot of interesting stories with President Trump,” Kim said following the one-on-one meeting.
“We’re going to have a very busy day tomorrow…Probably a very quick dinner,” Trump said, adding he hoped the talks would lead to “to a wonderful situation.”
The two leaders are set to hold further meetings on Thursday.
The meeting is the second between the two leaders in less than a year, coming eight-and-a-half months after their first meeting at Singapore’s Sentosa hotel in June last year.
That summit produced a four-point agreement reaffirming Kim Jong Un’s commitment to denuclearization and committing the two sides to improve relations and to build a “lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula.”
But the meeting was widely-regarded as having failed to secure concrete action from Pyongyang on its nuclear program, while President Trump surprised observers with an announcement that he would suspend joint U.S.-ROK military drills while diplomacy continued.
The months that followed that summit saw negotiations between North Korea and the U.S. stall, however: partially over disagreement over the sequencing of potential sanctions relief and the definitions of denuclearization.
Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech on January 1, too, saw the DPRK leader stress the need for “trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions” from the U.S. in exchange for what he described as Pyongyang’s “prior efforts” towards disarmament.
This week’s summit is expected to see the U.S. seek to build on these steps, which have included the purported decommissioning of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and a commitment to dismantle the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.
At the center of speculation about potential North Korean concessions is the status of the Yongbyon nuclear facility.
North Korea previously committed to also take steps towards “the permanent dismantlement of Yongbyon nuclear facilities,” but only “if the U.S. take corresponding actions based on the spirit of the North Korea-U.S. joint statement of June 12.”
It’s unclear, however, how much progress can be made, with a source telling NK News this week that pre-summit talks between U.S. and DPRK interlocutors had failed to produce any concrete agreement.
As a result, tangible progress on denuclearization issues now appear to depend on the outcome of summit negotiations made directly between President Trump and Kim Jong Un on Wednesday evening and Thursday, they added.
Another source, however, said the two sides were set to agree to a new commitment on the DPRK pursuing a “brighter future” – reports that would tie in to recent promises from U.S. President Trump that Pyongyang stands to become one of the “great economic powers” should it denuclearize.
Just hours before his first meeting with Kim Jong Un, Trump complained of ” false reporting (guessing) on my intentions with respect to North Korea.”
“Kim Jong Un and I will try very hard to work something out on Denuclearization & then making North Korea an Economic Powerhouse,” he added. “I believe that China, Russia, Japan & South Korea will be very helpful!
But any major influx of foreign capital into North Korea would require some kind of relief from international sanctions – relief that could incentivize Pyongyang to take substantial, if not complete, steps to dismantle its nuclear program.
“I think the prospect of some real sanctions relief through temporary, multi-year waivers may give Kim Jong Un sufficient incentive to sign off on a deal that includes some real concessions on the nuclear front,” Peter Ward, an expert on the North Korean economy, told NK News.
“They will never give up their nuclear weapons entirely. But they may accept some real reductions to the development program and a permanent end to testing, so long as they get actual sanctions relief.”
Another observer said he expects the upcoming summit outcomes to mirror those in Singapore last year.
“As far as substantive outcomes, the best we can probably hope for is that this summit will be a down payment on a better U.S.-North Korea relationship and greater progress toward denuclearization down the line,” Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department East Asia desk officer, told NK News.
Among these down payments could be progress towards a peace treaty between the U.S. and North Korea – an outcome the South Korean government has said it expects to emerge.
One expert, however, said any such agreement would only be possible should North Korea take steps towards disarmament through this week’s summit.
“We have to put this into context: if North Korea doesn’t show some sincere efforts and goodwill toward partial denuclearization and eventual verifications and inspections (or at least a firm roadmap to it), a peace declaration could be a hard sell back in the U.S.,” David Kim, a research analyst with the Stimson Center’s WMD, Nonproliferation, and Security program, told NK News.
“We have to transform relations in lockstep with real progress on denuclearization.”
Likely not under discussion this week, however, will the issue of human rights.
With the summit coming just weeks after the five-year anniversary of the release of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry’s report on North Korean human rights, many observers have expressed disappointment that the issue is yet to be raised in talks with Pyongyang.
“Persistently leaving human rights aside of the agenda sends a very wrong message to Kim Jong-un that this is a secondary matter with little priority to the Trump administration,” Teodora Gyupchanova, Director of International Communications at the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB), told NK News.
“Now is a significant moment to send a message to the North Korean leader that human rights are not to be neglected in the negotiation process and the DPRK must take serious measures to actually improve the well-being of its citizens, all of them, regardless of their social status and family background.”
But while the precise contents of the summit talks remain unclear, another expert doubted whether Trump has properly prepared for the complex negotiations to come.
“That President Trump continues to equate North Korea negotiations as a real estate deal is reflective of a myopic understanding and view of the issues,” former North Korea analyst for the CIA Soo Kim told NK News.
Kim said Trump’s personal decisions in negotiations will have broad implications not only on the denuclearization process, but also on “alliance issues as well as U.S. strategic interests in the region.”
The multiple meetings and photo opportunities between the leaders over the two-day summit “just leaves more room for Trump to make seat-of-the-pants decisions and more opportunities for Kim to outbargain his counterpart,” she cautioned.
The President will depart Hanoi on Friday, the White House confirmed, while Kim Jong Un will remain in Hanoi at least through Saturday to carry out an official state visit.
Edited by Colin Zwirko
Featured image: White House