The record of both leaders suggests a surprise outcome remains possible until the last minute, but the mood on Thursday morning suggested incremental confidence-building and risk reduction measures were a more likely outcome of the Hanoi talks – the second summit between the two men – than sweeping disarmament measures.
Since the first summit in Singapore in June last year, Trump and his administration had claimed they were on the brink of a historic breakthrough in persuading North Korea to disarm, going beyond the agreements forged by former US presidents.
But Trump’s remarks represented a recalibration of expectations about substance and speed.
“No rush. No rush,” he insisted. “We just want to do the right deal. Chairman Kim and myself, we want to do the right deal. Speed is not important. What’s important is that we do the right deal.”
Among the confidence-building measures on the table at the talks are the setting up of liaison offices in Washington and Pyongyang, a step towards establishing diplomatic relations. There could be a declaration on formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War, and more progress on the repatriation of the remains of US soldiers killed in that conflict.
The US side had been hoping for major progress in dismantling equipment and facilities at the main North Korean nuclear complex at Yongbyon.
For his part, Kim came to Hanoi hoping for substantial relief from sanctions. But reports from the negotiations and the ambience of the first meeting on Thursday suggested such a major breakthroughs remained elusive as they went into their final session of talks and a working lunch, which was due to be followed by the signing of a joint statement.
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While denuclearisation is the focus of today’s talks, Japan’s prime minister, voiced hope that Trump would push Kim on the cold war abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korean spies.
Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary session on Thursday he was “confident” the president would bring up the abductions – an emotive issue in Japan – as well as make progress on the North’s missile and nuclear programmes, which he called a “major threat” to Japan.
“I am confident that President Trump will pass on my views on the settlement of the nuclear and abduction issues to Chairman Kim Jong-un,” Abe said.
Trump told Abe last week that he would support attempts to repatriate 12 citizens Japan says were abducted in the 1970s and 80s. Five abductees returned to Japan in 2002 following a summit in Pyongyang between the then North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, and Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.
North Korea has said that eight of the remaining victims died and that the other four never entered the country – claims that Tokyo has dismissed.