WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un met Wednesday in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi for their second summit aimed at paving the way for an agreement for Pyongyang to surrender its nuclear weapons.
The two leaders appeared tired but relaxed as they shook hands, smiled, patted each other’s arms at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel Wednesday evening, in front of the flags of the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Then they saw down and made brief opening remarks.
Through an interpreter, Kim spoke of the gap between last year’s Singapore summit in June.
“Here we are today,” he said, in remarks difficult to hear over the din of clicking cameras, that included references to “painstaking effort” and “patience”
“During that 261 days since we last met, there have been some misunderstandings. There have been all these eyes from the world who are misunderstanding the situation. But — and there was some hostility that still remains from the very, very past period that — from the outside.”
“Right,” Trump interjected, then Kim continued, “But, however, we have been able to overcome all the obstacles, and here we are today after 261 days, in Hanoi.”
Trump praised Vietnam for rolling out the red carpet as he pressed his belief that the hermit kingdom of North Korea could transform, as Vietnam did, from a war-torn rival to an economic force. North Korea, he asserted, has “tremendous economic potential.”
“Our biggest progress is our relationship is really a good one,” Trump said in a reference to last year’s Singapore summit.
After the one-on-one, the leaders went to a dinner where Trump was accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and interpreter Yun-hyang Lee.
Kim included Kim Yong Chol, his right-hand man, and former spy chief, as well as Foreign Affairs Minister Ri Yung Ho and interpreter Sin Hye Yong.
Trump abruptly answered some questions from reporters. Would the U.S. walk back its determination that Pyongyang de-nuclearize?
“No,” he said.
He did not respond to a question about his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen who testified before Congress on Wednesday.
Trump also told reporters there will be a news conference on Thursday.
The exclusion of four print reporters, including one from the Associated Press, from the press availability as Trump sat down for dinner with Kim added to tensions between both delegations and the news media.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement saying that due to the “sensitive nature of the meetings we have limited the pool for dinner to a smaller group.”
The decision to bar reporters Wednesday was an abrupt change of plans. The White House had previously said that access would be granted to the usual 13-person group of reporters, known as the traveling press pool, who follow the president to every event.
Previously the White House Travel Office had booked the Melia hotel to serve as the filing center for the White House press corps, and broadcast news organizations arrived early to set up their equipment.
But then as it became clear that Kim had booked the same hotel, the Vietnamese government ordered the press corps to move their people and equipment to the Cultural Friendship Palace. North Korean security ordered reporters not to take photos of the North Korean leader.
Fox News White House correspondent John Roberts tweeted: “In nearly 10 years covering the @WhiteHouse, having been on presidential trips to more than 100 countries, I have never seen the White House Press Corps kicked out of our unilateral press/broadcast center by request of a foreign leader.”
If Wednesday was designed to showcase a “very special relationship” with Kim, as Trump put it, Thursday should be the day that diplomatic negotiations take over and observers will see what concessions North Korea is willing to make and what the U.S. will have to offer in return.
Meanwhile, the president showed himself to be absorbed with Cohen’s appearance before the House Oversight Committee.
From Hanoi Wednesday, Trump tweeted, “Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked’s lawyer!” a reference to Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis, who worked for the Clinton White House.