Anticipation for what could come out of the summit ran high in Hanoi. But the carnival-like atmosphere in the Vietnamese capital, with street artists painting likenesses of the leaders and vendors hawking T-shirts emblazoned with their faces, stood in contrast to the serious items on the agenda: North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and peace on the Korean Peninsula.
“We have a very big meeting planned tonight as you know, with North Korea, Chairman Kim, and I think it may very well turn out to be very successful,” Trump told the top leaders of Vietnam.
“We’ll see what happens, but he wants to do something great,” Trump said, adding that Kim could use Vietnam as a model for economic revitalization. “If you look at what you’ve done in a short time, he can do it in a very, very rapid time — make North Korea into a great economic power.”
There’s growing worry among experts, however, that Trump will give Kim too much and get too little in return — 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, for example, or sanctions relief that could allow Pyongyang to restart lucrative economic projects with the South. Skeptics insist Trump must first get real progress on the North abandoning its nuclear weapons before giving away important negotiating leverage too soon.
Trump was eager to send a message about Vietnamese prosperity.
“Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth. North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize,” Trump tweeted Wednesday, hours before he and Kim were to meet again. “The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un. We will know fairly soon – Very Interesting!”
Trump said at a separate meeting with his Vietnamese hosts that “hopefully great things will happen” in the meeting with Kim.
The leaders first met last June in Singapore, a summit that was long on historic pageantry but short on any enforceable agreements for North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal. North Korea has spent decades, at great economic sacrifice, building its nuclear program, and there is widespread skepticism that it will give away that program without getting something substantial from the U.S.
That could be a declaration to end the Korean War. Such an announcement would allow Trump to make history and would dovetail with his opposition to “forever wars.” But it wouldn’t amount to concrete steps toward denuclearization and could even turn the focus of discussions to removing or reducing the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. If there is no war, North Korea could ask why the U.S. needs to have troops in South Korea at all.
The conflict ended in 1953 with an armistice, essentially a cease-fire signed by North Korea, China and the 17-nation, U.S.-led United Nations Command. If made, the declaration would amount to a political statement, ostensibly teeing up talks for a formal peace treaty that would involve other nations.
While Trump wants Kim to agree to dismantle his nuclear sites in a verifiable way, Kim is seeking relief from crushing U.S. sanctions hobbling his economy. Trump has been using Kim’s need for economic revitalization as leverage to get concessions on denuclearization.
Other items being discussed are opening liaison offices in both North Korea and the United States. North and South Korea also want sanctions dialed back so they can resurrect two major symbols of rapprochement that provided much-needed hard currency to North Korea: a jointly run factory park in Kaesong and South Korean tours to the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort.
Trump remains eager to claim an attention-grabbing victory at the summit to offset the political turmoil he faces at home.
With the president away from the U.S., his now-disbarred former personal lawyer was preparing to tell a House committee that Trump knew ahead of time that WikiLeaks had emails damaging to the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, and that Trump is a “racist,” a “conman” and a “cheat.” Cohen suggests in prepared testimony obtained by The Associated Press for Wednesday’s hearing that Trump also implicitly, but not directly, told him to lie about a Moscow real estate project. Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the project, which he says Trump knew about as Cohen negotiated with Russia during the election. Cohen is set to begin a three-year prison sentence in May.
On WikiLeaks, Cohen says he was in Trump’s New York office in July 2016 when longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone called and Trump put the call on speakerphone. Cohen said Stone informed Trump that a ‘massive dump” of emails believed to be damaging to Clinton would happen “within a couple of days.”
The president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., accused Democrats of scheduling Cohen’s testimony to overshadow and distract from the summit.
“It just goes to show you how much those Democrats really disdain Trump but also America,” he told Fox News Channel.
The president jabbed at Democrats too, tweeting that they “should stop talking about what I should do with North Korea and ask themselves instead why they didn’t do ‘it’ during eight years of the Obama Administration?”
AP journalists Hau Dinh and Hyung-jin Kim in Hanoi and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.