HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un appeared to find some common ground in their high-stakes summit Thursday, with Kim suggesting an openness to denuclearization and allowing a historic U.S. presence in his reclusive nation, even as doubts remained about whether the regime would give up the devastating weapons it believes ensures its survival.
A summit that already bordered on the surreal took another surprising twist as the leaders adopted almost a role reversal during their face-to-face discussions in Hanoi. As nervous global capitals looked on, Trump deliberately ratcheted down some of the pressure on Pyongyang, declaring he was in “no rush. We just want to do the right deal.”
But Kim, when asked about denuclearization during an unprecedented question-and-answer session with journalists, said “If I’m not willing to do that I won’t be here right now.” The leaders seemed to find a point of agreement moments later when Kim was asked if the U.S. may open a liaison office in North Korea. Trump declared it “not a bad idea” and Kim called it “welcomable.” Such an office would mark the first U.S. presence in North Korea.
Over a series of meetings, the two men offered hopeful words at a summit focused on curbing Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, a problem that has bedeviled generations of leaders.
The summit was held against a backdrop of swirling questions: What was Kim really willing to give up? What may Trump demand in the face of rising domestic turmoil? And could the meeting yield far more concrete results than the leaders’ first summit, a meeting in Singapore less than a year ago that was long on dramatic imagery but short on tangible results?
In a sharp break from his rhetoric a year ago, when he painted the threat from Pyongyang as so grave that “fire and fury” may need to be rained down on North Korea, Trump made clear he was willing to accept a slower timetable for denuclearization. He made little mention of denuclearization in his opening remarks, ramping down expectations further by saying “I can’t speak necessarily for today but … over a period of time I know we’re going to have a fantastic success with respect to Chairman Kim and North Korea.”
Kim fielded questions from Western journalists for likely the first time, with the reporters receiving some coaching from the president, who implored, “And don’t raise your voice, please. This isn’t like dealing with Trump.” The North Korean leader struck a largely hopeful note, saying “I believe by intuition that good results will be produced.”
After a reporter asked Kim if they were discussing human rights, Trump interjected to say they were “discussing everything” though he did not specifically address the issue.
Earlier, accompanied only by translators, the unlikely pair — a 72-year-old brash billionaire and a 35-year-old reclusive autocrat — displayed a familiarity with one another as they began the day’s negotiations. After a 40-minute private meeting, the leaders went for a stroll on the Hotel Metropole’s lush grounds, chatting as they walked by a swimming pool before being joined by aides to continue talks.
“The relationship is just very strong and when you have a good relationship a lot of good things happen,” said Trump. He added that “a lot of great ideas were being thrown about” at their opulent dinner the night before. He offered no specifics.
“I believe that starting from yesterday, the whole world is looking at this spot right now,” Kim said via his translator. “I’m sure that all of them will be watching the moment that we are sitting together side by side as if they are watching a fantasy movie.”
Possible outcomes could include a peace declaration for the Korean War that the North could use to eventually push for the reduction of U.S. troops in South Korea, or sanctions relief that could allow Pyongyang to pursue lucrative economic projects with the South.
Skeptics say such agreements would leave in place a significant portion of North Korea’s nuclear-tipped missiles while robbing the United States of its negotiating leverage going forward. Asked if this summit would yield a political declaration to end the Korean War, Trump told reporters on Wednesday: “We’ll see.”
Source: The Associated Press