Washington: Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are to hold their second summit in Vietnam at the end of February, the US president has confirmed.
In his state of the union speech to Congress, Trump said: “As part of a bold new diplomacy, we continue our historic push for peace on the Korean peninsula.”
And he repeated an earlier claim to have averted a major conflict due to his Korean diplomacy - a mixture of engagement, economic sanctions and threats of military action.
“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,” he said.
Since his first meeting with Kim in Singapore last June, Trump said “our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in more than 15 months”.
“Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one. And Chairman Kim and I will meet again on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam.”
The president did not name a precise venue. According to CNN, the two cities under consideration are Hanoi and Da Nang. Reuters reported that four US military V-22 Osprey aircraft had arrived at Da Nang airport from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa on Tuesday evening and left a few hours later.
South Korea, which has seen an improvement in ties with North Korea under its liberal president, Moon Jae-in, welcomed Trump’s announcement.
“The two leaders already took their first step in Singapore toward shaking off their 70-year history of hostilities. Now we hope that they will take a step forward for concrete, substantive progress,” said Kim Eui-kyeom, the presidential spokesman.
Japan said it hoped the summit would be “meaningful” and lead to the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
On the same Asian trip, Trump is also expected to meet China’s president, Xi Jinping, in the hope of finalising a trade deal before the March 1 deadline imposed by both countries for resolving an array of disputes that have threatened to trigger a trade war.
The US special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, is in North Korea this week to continue planning the second Trump-Kim summit, in the hope of guaranteeing a substantive outcome.
Since Trump and Kim met in their historic first encounter in Singapore, North Korea has not carried out any nuclear or missile tests, and it released US nationals it was holding.
For its part, the US has not taken part in major joint exercises with its South Korean allies.
But the North Korean nuclear disarmament that Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, claimed would follow the Singapore summit, has not materialised.
US intelligence reports suggest that production work on enriched uranium and missiles has continued and may even have stepped up. Vice-President Mike Pence conceded last month that US officials “we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region.”
UN officials told CNN on the day of Trump’s state of the union speech that a confidential report concluded that the Kim regime was dispersing and hiding its assembly, storage and testing facilities for its nuclear and ballistic programmes.
Last week, the US director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, presented a report to Congress that said that Pyongyang was “unlikely to give up” its nuclear weapons because its leadership sees them as “critical to regime survival”.
Trump has rejected those sceptical assessments and insisted “tremendous progress” has been made out of the view of the world’s media.
Harry Kazianis, the director of North Korea studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, said the summit would give Trump and Kim “the opportunity to truly make history in Vietnam. But transforming an adversarial relationship built on tough talk, nuclear threats and the danger of a second Korean War that could kill millions won’t be easy.”
He added: “Success can only be assured in finding a formula where both sides each make concessions that are realistic, verifiable and not perceived as a loss to the one granting them.”