The long-awaited Hanoi summit got underway this evening as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump met for dinner at Hanoi’s Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi.
In front of a backdrop of North Korean and US flags, the two exchanged handshakes, back pats and grins for the camera, before making brief comments to the press. Trump seemed upbeat, even though his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, is expected to testify before Congress tomorrow in what could be a potentially explosive episode for the increasingly embattled president.
Asked if an end to the Korean War might be on tomorrow’s agenda, Trump replied, “We shall see.” He also said he has not “walked back” the denuclearization of North Korea – a question possibly prompted by his recent statement that he is in “no hurry” to achieve that outcome, and that he is satisfied with a current lack of missile and fissile test. Kim spoke briefly, saying he hoped for a “great outcome.”
Minutes later, at another short discussion in front of media, Trump said it was an “honor to be with Chairman Kim, it’s an honor to be together….after a very successful first summit” and “we have made a lot of progress.” He repeated what is becoming a key message in his outreach to Kim: “I say to anyone…that your country has tremendous economic potential…we will both help to make it happen.”
Minutes later, during a brief press opportunity at the dining table, where Kim and Trump sat next to each other, flanked by interpreters, Kim said, “We have exchanged very interesting dialogue.” Trump said, “We are going to have a very busy day tomorrow,” adding, “Our relationship is a very special relationship.”
Trump was accompanied at dinner by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Kim’s was joined by former espionage general Kim Yong Chol, Pompeo’s counterpart in high-level talks, and Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.
The Metropole is one of Asia’s great colonial-era hotels. Writers Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene have both rented rooms there, while entertainers who have enjoyed its hospitality have reportedly included comedian Charlie Chaplin, and US thespian and anti-war activist Jane Fonda – who won some notoriety during the Vietnam War for her visits to Hanoi.
But while the stately French façade, which dates back to 1901, remains, the interior has been massively upgraded. In addition to the leaders’ dinner this evening, the Metropole will serve as the summit venue tomorrow, though neither Kim nor Trump are staying there.
Security outside the hotel was tight, with uniformed Vietnamese police and – an unusual sight – the roving foot patrols of pairs of plainclothes North Korean and US security officers, operating in concert. Kim’s black-suited bodyguard detail has delighted camera crews, with their well-choreographed door-opening moves, fast cordon deployments and jogging alongside their portly leader’s limo.
While the dinner gives the two leaders the opportunity to renew the personal chemistry they first mixed at their summit in Singapore last June, the two are expected to transact more serious business tomorrow.
Kim is believed to want some kind of declaration to end the Korean War, sanctions relief – possibly for two inter-Korean projects, the industrial park at Kaesong and a tourism zone at Mt Kumgang – and the upgrading of bilateral ties.
Trump’s team may push for disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear sites and assets, and inspections and dismantlement protocols for the country’s main nuclear site of Yongbyon.
Moreover, Kim is likely to seek a continuation of last year’s suspension of military drills by South Korea and the United States, while Trump has expressed his satisfaction with the moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, enacted by Kim, that held throughout 2018.