February 23, 2019 / 9:40 PM / 6 months ago

North Korea warns U.S. sceptics as Kim heads for summit with Trump

HANOI (Reuters) - North Korea warned President Donald Trump on Sunday not to listen to U.S. critics who were disrupting efforts to improve ties, as its leader, Kim Jong Un, made his way across China by train to a second summit with Trump in Vietnam.

The two leaders will meet in Hanoi on Wednesday and Thursday, eight months after their historic summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, where they pledged to work toward the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

But their vaguely worded agreement has produced few results and U.S. Democratic senators and U.S. security officials have warned Trump against cutting a deal that would do little to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

The North’s KCNA state news agency said such opposition was aimed at derailing the talks.

“If the present U.S. administration reads others’ faces, lending an ear to others, it may face the shattered dream of the improvement of the relations with the DPRK and world peace and miss the rare historic opportunity,” the news agency said in a commentary, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Trump administration has pressed the North to give up its nuclear weapons programme, which, combined with its missile capabilities, pose a threat to the United States, before it can expect any concessions.

But in recent days Trump has signalled a possible softening, saying he would love to be able to remove sanctions if there is meaningful progress on denuclearisation.

Trump also said he was in no rush and had no pressing schedule for North Korea’s denuclearisation, hinting at a more gradual, reciprocal approach, long favoured by Pyongyang.

The North also wants security guarantees and a formal end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a treaty.

Trump said on Sunday that he and Kim expect to make further progress at this week’s summit and again held out the promise that denuclearisation would help North Korea develop its economy.

He also said Chinese President Xi Jinping has been supportive of Trump’s meeting with Kim. “The last thing China wants are large scale nuclear weapons right next door.”

TRUMP SCOFFS AT CRITICS

Trump scoffed at critics of his handling of North Korea.

“So funny to watch people who have failed for years, they got NOTHING, telling me how to negotiate with North Korea. But thanks anyway!” he said in a tweet.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday” that North Korea has yet to take “concrete” steps on denuclearisation and said another summit might be needed beyond the one in Hanoi, but that he hoped for substantial progress this week.

“The alternative to giving up his nuclear weapons is remaining a pariah state, remaining a nation that is unable to trade, unable to grow, unable to take care of its own people,” Pompeo said of Kim in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In a letter to Trump last week, three Democratic chairmen of key committees in the House of Representatives accused the administration of withholding information on the negotiations with North Korea.

“There are ample reasons to be sceptical that Chairman Kim is committed to a nuclear-free North Korea,” the lawmakers wrote.

U.S. intelligence officials recently testified to Congress that North Korea was unlikely to ever give up its entire nuclear arsenal.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Pompeo has conceded in private discussions with Korea experts that he would be lucky if North Korea agreed to dismantle 60 percent of what the United States has demanded, although he added that it would still be more than any other administration had achieved.

Key rings depicting North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump are seen for sale ahead of their summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

The State Department declined to comment on the report. 

KCNA, referring to U.S. fears of the North’s weapons, said if this week’s talks ended without results, “the U.S. people will never be cleared of the security threats that threw them into panic”.

Few details of Kim’s trip to Vietnam were announced until early on Sunday, when North Korean state media confirmed he had left Pyongyang by train, accompanied by senior officials as well as his influential sister, Kim Yo Jong.

RED CARPET SEND-OFF

In rare, revealing coverage of Kim’s travel, the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper featured photographs of the leader getting a red-carpet send-off on Saturday afternoon and waving from a train door while holding a cigarette.

He was joined by top officials also involved in the Singapore summit, including Kim Yong Chol, a former spy chief and Kim’s top envoy in negotiations with the United States, as well as senior party aide Ri Su Yong, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and defence chief No Kwang Chol.

Other senior officials, such as his de facto chief of staff, Kim Chang Son, and Kim Hyok Chol, negotiations counterpart to U.S. envoy Stephen Biegun, were already in Hanoi to prepare for the summit.

Both sides are under pressure to forge more specific agreements than were reached in Singapore.

The two leaders are likely to try to build on their personal connection to push things forward in Hanoi, even if only incrementally, analysts said.

“They will not make an agreement which breaks up the current flow of diplomacy. (President Trump) has mentioned that they’ll meet again; even if there is a low-level agreement, they will seek to keep things moving,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

Few details of summit arrangements have been released.

Slideshow (19 Images)

Some lamp posts on Hanoi’s tree-lined streets are decked with North Korean, U.S. and Vietnamese flags fluttering above a handshake design, and security has been stepped up at locations that could be the summit venue, or where the leaders might stay.

It could take Kim at least 2-1/2 days to travel to Vietnam by train.

Additional reporting by Joyce Lee, Ju-min Park, Soyoung Kim, Hyonhee Shin, James Pearson, and Ginger Gibson in Washington; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jeffrey Benkoe

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