Trump, Kim begin summit on optimistic note

Updated February 28, 2019

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PRESIDENT Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are all smiles as they shake hands on Wednesday.—AFP
PRESIDENT Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are all smiles as they shake hands on Wednesday.—AFP

HANOI: US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiled, shook hands and dined on Wednesday in Hanoi, expressing optimism that their highly personal brand of diplomacy would lead to a deal on the totalitarian state’s nuclear weapons.

At the start of around two hours of talks and dinner at a luxury hotel in the Vietnamese capital, Trump predicted a “very successful” summit, due to resume on Thursday and end in a still unspecified signing ceremony.

The two-day get-together follows up on the leaders’ initial historic meeting in Singapore in June, where Trump launched his charm offensive to try and get Kim to give up his nuclear arsenal.

Shaking hands and smiling in front of a bank of US and North Korean flags, they briefly took questions from reporters before starting one-to-one talks, then the dinner.

Critics said the Singapore summit was light on concrete results but Trump said the Hanoi talks would be “equal or better than the first” time. Kim said: “I am certain that a great outcome will be achieved this time that will be welcomed by all people.”

The White House said that on Thursday Trump and Kim would meet again one-to-one, before continuing talks alongside advisers throughout the morning.

This would culminate in a “Joint Agreement Signing Ceremony”, the White House said without providing further details.

A press conference is also scheduled before Trump returns to Washington.

But the president has been dogged by scandal at home, where his former lawyer Michael Cohen described him as a “conman” in nationally televised testimony to Congress starting shortly after Trump finished Wednesday’s negotiations on the other side of the world.

Bidding to make history

Seeking a big foreign policy win to push back against domestic troubles, Trump believes he can make history with North Korea and claims Japan’s prime minister has already nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize.

His goal is to persuade Kim to dismantle his nuclear weapons and resolve a stand-off with the deeply isolated state that has bedevilled US leaders since the end of the Korean war in 1953.

To lure Kim into radical change, Trump is believed to be considering offering a formal peace declaration — though perhaps not a formal treaty — to draw a line under the technically still unfinished war.

At the same time, Washington faces mounting pressure to extract significant concessions from Kim, who has so far shown little desire to ditch his nuclear capability.

Washington and Pyongyang disagree even on what denuclearisation means precisely. And while North Korea has now gone more than a year without conducting missile and nuclear tests, it has done nothing to roll back the weapons already built.

A former real estate tycoon who often boasts he is one of the world’s best negotiators, Trump is pitching a vision of North Korea as a new Asian economic tiger if it surrenders its nuclear status.

He said the country could quickly emulate the summit’s host, Vietnam — a communist state once locked in devastating conflict with the United States, but now a thriving trade partner.

Trump sent a tweet touting North Korea’s “AWESOME” potential if his “friend” Kim takes the non-nuclear route.

And Trump has invested himself personally in the relationship with Kim, creating the diplomatic equivalent of a Hollywood odd-couple romance.

Before Singapore, they were slinging bizarre insults — Trump calling Kim “rocket man” and Kim calling him a “dotard”.

With North Korea then busily testing missiles and conducting underground nuclear tests, analysts feared the duo were egging each other on towards a catastrophic confrontation.

Now, Trump talks of “love” and claims that his ground-breaking policies defused the threat posed by Kim.

Critics warn Trump is so keen to score a deal that he could give away too much, too quickly, endangering US allies South Korea and Japan.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2019