HANOI (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump hailed “a very special relationship” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they met in Vietnam for a second summit on Wednesday and said he was satisfied with the pace of denuclearization talks despite some criticism they were not moving quickly enough.
The U.S. president appeared upbeat with Kim even as on the other side of the world in Washington his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen called Trump a “conman” who knew in advance about the release of stolen emails aimed at hurting his Democratic rival in the 2016 election campaign.
“Great meetings” and a “Very good dialogue,” Trump said on Twitter after dinner with Kim at Hanoi’s French-colonial-era Metropole hotel while the White House said the two planned to sign a “joint agreement” after further talks on Thursday.
Facing increasing political and legal pressure at home over investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, Trump has devoted significant time and effort to trying to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for promises of peace and development, a foreign policy goal that has confounded multiple predecessors.
The Hanoi meeting was Trump’s second meeting with Kim in eight months and he appeared to reiterate recent statements that he was in no rush.
“We had a very successful first summit,” he told Kim. “I felt it was very successful, and some people would like to see it go quicker; I’m satisfied; you’re satisfied, we want to be happy with what we’re doing.”
Asked by a reporter if he was “walking back” on denuclearization demands, Trump said “no”.
Trump and Kim held a 20-minute, one-on-one chat before they sat down to dinner with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Kim’s top envoy Kim Yong Chol and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.
On Thursday, the two leaders are scheduled for a series of meetings at the Metropole, beginning with another one-on-one session lasting 45 minutes, the White House said.
The two leaders would hold a “joint agreement signing ceremony,” at the end of the meetings, which would be followed by a news conference by Trump at 3:50 p.m. Hanoi time (0850 GMT).
The White House has given no indication as to what the signing ceremony might involve, although the two sides have held discussions that have included the possibility of a political statement to declare the 1950-53 Korean War over, which some critics say would be premature.
Asked if he would declare a formal end to the Korean War, which concluded with an armistice, not a peace treaty that North Korea has long sought, Trump said: “We’ll see.”
Their summit in Singapore in June was the first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader and ended with fanfare but little substance.
Trump and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean peninsula, but there has been little progress since. Kim said they had overcome obstacles to meet a second time and praised Trump for his “courageous decision” to begin a dialogue.
“Now that we’re meeting here again like this, I’m confident that there will be an excellent outcome that everyone welcomes, and I’ll do my best to make it happen,” Kim said.
“We’re going to have a very busy day tomorrow,” a smiling, relaxed-looking Trump, said seated beside Kim at a round dinner table with the other four officials and two interpreters.
“Our relationship is a very special relationship.”
Observers said the pair were at pains to show their relationship had improved since June, with their body language closely mirroring each other.
Trump said late last year he and Kim “fell in love”, but whether the bonhomie can move them beyond summit pageantry to substantive progress on eliminating a North Korean nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States is the big question.
Trump indicated a more flexible stance in the run-up to Hanoi, saying he was in no rush on denuclearization as long as North Korea, which has not tested a nuclear weapon or intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, maintained that freeze.
Trump risks squandering vital leverage if he gives away too much, too quickly, critics said.
Evans Revere, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea, said Trump was under pressure given his domestic problems and “Kim may be tempted to push Trump even harder for concessions, knowing how much the president wants and needs that testing pause.”
Daniel Russel, who served as the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia until early in Trump’s presidency, said telling Kim that he could take his time was anything but strategically wise.
“The yardstick for assessing ... results is not whether Trump proclaims himself ‘happy,’ but whether the outcome takes North Korea measurably closer to revealing and dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”
U.S. intelligence officials have said there is no sign North Korea will give up its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, which Kim’s ruling family sees as vital to its survival, and analysts say Pyongyang is unlikely to commit to significant steps without an easing of punishing U.S.-led sanctions.
The two sides have discussed partial denuclearization measures, such as allowing inspectors to observe the dismantlement of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor, U.S. and South Korean officials say.
U.S. concessions could include opening liaison offices or clearing the way for inter-Korean projects.
Trump has appeared to be betting on his personal relationship with Kim, and the economic incentive after 70 years of hostility between their countries.
“Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth. North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize,” Trump said on Twitter ahead of the meeting.
For live coverage of the summit, click: here; Eikon SUMMIT LIVE [nL3N20M1H6]; Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Jeff Mason in HANOI; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin, James Pearson, Mai Nyugen, Ju-min Park, Khanh Vu, Josh Smith in HANOI, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Editing by Robert Birsel, Lincoln Feast and Grant McCool