President Trump on Tuesday announced a second nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam on Feb. 27-28 as the White House seeks to jump-start moribund negotiations.
Trump made the disclosure in his State of the Union address, hailing the summit as a sign of progress in his bid to blunt the Kim regime’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program, despite public testimony from U.S. intelligence officials last week that the North continues to develop its arsenal in secret.
Trump signaled he remains fully committed to the personal diplomacy with Kim, with whom he has traded letters and professed to have developed a good rapport since their first summit in Singapore last June. Though lower-level talks have bogged down in recent months, Trump and his advisers have said they believe the two leaders could achieve a breakthrough in a face-to-face meeting.
“As part of a bold new diplomacy, we continue our historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Trump said. “If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea. Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one.”
Analysts said the choice of Vietnam, with its business-oriented, authoritarian government and successful mix of trade and tourism, could highlight a path forward for North Korea and encourage Kim to choose a bright economic future over nuclear weapons. Vietnam maintains diplomatic relations with North Korea, which has an embassy in Hanoi.
Trump was not specific where in Vietnam the meeting would be held. Speculation has centered on Hanoi, the capital city, or Da Nang, a coastal resort that Trump visited in November 2017 for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings.
“They’re a socialist country but one that has a good relationship with the United States and other Democratic countries,” said Ernest Bower, who operates a consulting firm focusing on Southeast Asia. “They serve as a nonthreatening bridge between two ideologies, and they have an open and decent relationship with North Korea.”
Since Singapore, Trump has said he believes Kim is sincere about getting dismantling his arsenal as part of an accord with the United States, China and South Korea that would formally end the Korean War. Yet U.S. intelligence chiefs testified to Congress last week that North Korea is unlikely to give up weapons that the regime considers a crucial deterrent to invasion or overthrow.
Trump’s optimism Tuesday highlights the transformation in relations between Washington and Pyongyang since last year’s State of the Union speech, when Trump called the ruling Kim dynasty “depraved.”
Months after that speech, Trump stunned the world by agreeing to a personal meeting with Kim, which took place in June with warm handshakes and grins but few specific results. U.S. officials have said the second meeting will be more substantive.
Trump credits his strategy of threats and harsh rhetoric in the first year of his presidency with resetting terms for a negotiation with Kim. He touts their personal relationship and the first summit in Singapore with an extended period without any North Korean nuclear tests or missile launches.
Trump’s North Korea envoy plans to meet North Korean officials Wednesday in the capital Pyongyang, with a plan to reboot negotiations over North Korean nuclear weapons ahead of the leaders’ summit.
The envoy, Stephen E. Biegun, outlined goals for negotiations in an address last week that suggested the Trump administration is trying to broaden discussions with North Korea and offer a few carrots.
“From our side, we are prepared to discuss many actions that could help build trust between our two countries and advance further progress in parallel on the Singapore summit objectives of transforming relations, establishing a permanent peace regime on the peninsula, and complete denuclearization,” he said at Stanford University.