President Donald Trump embarked Wednesday on another round of high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, a follow-up encounter that officials in the US and across Asia are watching with trepidation as the President works to convert personal chemistry into real progress.
“I thought the first summit was a great success, and I think hopefully this one will be equal or greater,” Trump said during his first Hanoi encounter with Kim, a solo meeting inside the French colonial Metropole Hotel in the historic city center.
The two men greeted each other warmly before a row of US and North Korean flags, shaking hands and laughing eight months after their initial meeting in Singapore.
Trump hailed the friendship, saying the greatest achievement of his diplomatic gambit was the amicable way they’ve gotten along.
“I think the greatest progress is our relationship,” he said, before praising the iron-fisted despot as a “great leader” who could see his country’s economy blossom.
“I think your country has tremendous economic potential. Unbelievable. Unlimited,” he said. “I think 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 North Korean leader, for his part, praised Trump’s “courageous decision” to engage directly and trumpeted their direct diplomacy, noting that they “have been able to overcome all these obstacles” to get to a second summit.
Trump said he was upbeat following the initial meetings, tweeting: “Great meetings and dinner tonight in Vietnam with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. Very good dialogue. Resuming tomorrow!”
But the President revealed little of his intentions toward convincing Kim to abandon his nuclear program. Asked whether he’d walked back his vow to insist upon the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Trump said he had not. And questioned later whether he planned to declare an end to the Korean War, he said: “We’ll see.”
The meetings come as Trump’s former lawyer prepares to launch extraordinary allegations of racism and fraud against the President on Capitol Hill, providing a distraction that aides fear could overshadow the summit.
Trump declined to answer a question about Michael Cohen during his meeting with Kim. But earlier he offered a rebuttal as he was awaiting his meeting with Kim.
“Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately),” he wrote from his hotel in Hanoi. “He is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
Trump was meeting up with Kim at the French colonial Metropole Hotel, the city’s finest, for a solo conversation that kicked off their summit. A small dinner – billed by the White House as a social encounter – followed. Trump was joined there by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney for the roughly 90-minute meal.
A person close to the planning of the dinner told CNN that as of midday, the chefs were still struggling to get a menu approved because officials from both the US and North Korea kept adjusting the menu to make it “super simple.”
Trump and Kim Jong Un will sign a joint agreement on Thursday, according to the White House, and the President’s daily schedule lists a signing ceremony after a day of meetings with Kim.
US officials had been working to draft an agreement with their North Korean counterparts ahead of Trump’s arrival but it’s not yet known what is contained in the document.