President Donald Trump rekindled his love affair with Kim Jong Un during their second in-person meeting on Wednesday when the U.S. President called the dictator “a great leader” and promised to reward him by helping North Korea become an “economic powerhouse.”
In front of a spray of U.S. and North Korean flags, Trump and Kim smiled and greeted each other warmly inside the historic Hotel Metropole in Hanoi, Vietnam. A smiling Trump said he thinks this second summit will be “very successful,” possibly “even greater” than the leaders’ first meeting in June last year.
After their initial summit, Kim tentatively agreed to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula — although no specifics plans were made. Some experts have condemned the lack of progress and maintain that Kim has no intention of giving up his hard-won nuclear weapons.
In Hanoi Wednesday, however, Trump said he was satisfied with the progress so far on denuclearization even if some critics were not. Since the meeting in Singapore, there have been no new weapons or nuclear tests in North Korea, and Kim has offered to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facility. For its part, the U.S. has announced a limited lifting of sanctions preventing U.S. NGOs from travelling to North Korea.
But the biggest progress made since last June, Trump added, was in his “great relationship” with Kim.
Speaking through an interpreter, Kim said a number of misunderstandings followed the Singapore summit but added: “We have been able to overcome all the obstacles, and here we are today.”
Leading up to the summit, Trump reiterated his desire to help North Korea become an “economic powerhouse” and emphasized that sentiment, once again, in comments to reporters before the pair held their brief one-on-one meeting.
“I think that your country has tremendous economic potential, unlimited, and you will have a tremendous future. I look forward to watching it happen and helping it to happen, and we will help it to happen,” Trump said.
After the private meeting, the pair were joined for an intimate dinner by several officials from their respective countries, including, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, along with Kim Yong Chol, Vice Chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho.
Sitting down for dinner, Kim said Trump “shared a lot of interesting stories.” Trump took the opportunity to reiterate that the two have a “very special relationship.”
Change in tone
In Hanoi, Trump appears to have toned down his rhetoric — and possibly expectations, as some experts noted — about the potential outcomes from the summit, compared to the talks in Singapore.
Hours after the Singapore summit was finished Trump declared that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” On Wednesday when asked if the summit would see an official declaration ending the Korean War, Trump simply said: “We’ll see.”
“Both leaders seem to be indicating they want to secure more tangible results at this summit,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan think tank, told VICE News. “That requires that each side is realistic and does not overreach and agreement on the follow-on process for implementation.”
But others have warned that openly embracing Kim, Trump is sending the wrong message by failing to address the human rights situation in North Korea.
"North Korea is arguably the worst human rights abusing government in the world today so any dialogue with Kim Jong UN should not leave rights off the table,” Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said in an emailed statement. “Pyongyang wants to be brought in from the cold by the international community, but there can be no glossing over the DPRK's widespread use of forced and child labor, systemic suppression of free expression and civil society, and gulags holding tens of thousands in the mountains.”
Trump will be keen for the Hanoi summit to capture people’s attention, particularly given that thousands of miles away in Washington all eyes will be on Capitol Hill where Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen will give explosive testimony about to the House Oversight Committee. Cohen is expected to reveal potential criminal activity from his former boss, including campaign finances violations, as well as other unsavory behavior, like allegedly making racist comments.
Several Trump reporters shouted questions at the president asking if he had any comment about Cohen’s testimony. Trump just shook his head.
As a result of those shouted questions, the White House banned several print reporters from the final press event of the day where the two leaders sat down to dinner.
During some downtime in Hanoi earlier on Wednesday, Trump called Cohen, a liar and a fraud in a tweet, while referring to himself in the third person.
Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)