South Korean news outlets, citing a report from the Washington Post, claimed on Thursday that North Korea and the United States agreed to a second summit between American President Donald Trump and dictator Kim Jong-un, likely to occur in Vietnam in March or April.
The Post cited anonymous “U.S. and Asian diplomats” who stated that the White House may be ready for an official announcement on the summit by Friday, shortly after senior North Korean envoy and Workers’ Party’s Central Committee Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol is expected to meet with Trump in Washington.
As a high-ranking member of a regime considered the world’s worst human rights abuser, Kim Yong-chol’s presence in the United States is technically illegal. He appears on a U.S. sanctions list that bars him from the country. He last visited in summer 2018, believed to be allowed entry thanks to a legal waiver.
The United States has also hosted several banned North Korean officials in the past year despite their illegal presence in the country and treated at least one group to a lavish dinner in New York, on the State Department’s dime. On the menu were “a salad with burrata, ramp pesto, shaved crudité; filet mignon with corn puree and blanched celeriac; and a chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream.”
Given the crippled state of the communist North Korean economy, the nation’s elite – including most prominently Kim Jong-un – have come to rely on diplomacy to indulge their extravagant tastes.
“If announced soon, the summit would probably take place in March or April, with Danang, Vietnam, seeming to be the most likely venue, according to people familiar with the flurry of diplomatic activity over the past month,” the Post suggested. Danang is a port city on the South China Sea that the Vietnamese government has been working to promote as a tourist destination. Kim Jong-un has shown a preference for beachside cities in the past, visiting China’s Dalian city last year and touring the island of Singapore prior to his meeting there with Trump last summer.
Reports published prior to the latest suggestions that Vietnam would host the summit suggested that it was on a short list, along with Thailand, as possible venues, the South Korean news outlet Yonhap reported. Some had suggested that Hanoi, the capital, not Danang, was the early favorite for hosting the meeting.
“I met with East Asia-Pacific ambassadors yesterday at the State Department. It’s likely it will happen in Hanoi,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) told Voice of America on Wednesday, according to South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo. The newspaper noted, however, that Trump has visited Danang in the past, notably for the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), so the city has proven itself as a safe venue to host heads of government.
Most reports concur that the two sides agreeing to announce the Danang summit soon depends on if Kim Yong-chol’s visit goes well. Conservative South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo noted that Kim was originally scheduled to meet just with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, not necessarily the president, but that there is a “strong chance” he and Trump will meet at the White House.
Hanoi may not be left entirely out of the action. Reuters reported this week that Kim Jong-un is seeking to visit the capital city, if not to meet Trump, for a personal visit. The news agency cited unnamed sources claiming that Kim was eager to see Vietnam before meeting with Trump and may visit Hanoi next month following the Lunar New Year, typically celebrated throughout Asia.
The first summit between Kim and Trump allowed the former to tour Singapore the night before their meeting, enjoying the sights in one of Asia’s wealthiest cities. He has since traveled to China on multiple occasions, most recently for a birthday feast at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
Trump and Kim are likely to discuss the potential of ending North Korea’s illegal nuclear program during their summit, if it occurs. The last summit resulted in the publication of a declaration in which North Korea agreed to repatriate the remains of Americans killed during the active years of the Korean War (1950-1953) and support “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” which Pyongyang has repeatedly made clear is a phrase they use to mean the removal of a U.S. presence in the region.
Speaking this week, Vice President Mike Pence confirmed that the first Trump-Kim summit did not yield any results as far as convincing Pyongyang to end its nuclear program.
“While the president has started a promising dialogue with Chairman Kim, we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region,” Pence acknowledged.
A report published last week by the monitor site 38 North confirmed activity at the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Facility, a site that Pyongyang has typically used for enrichment experiments but not for equipping nuclear warheads with radioactive material. The report noted that there was no indication the nuclear reactors were working, only that employees remained active at the site and kept it in working order, shoveling snow out from near the reactors and keeping spaces clean for walking.