By Steve Holland and Christophe Van der Perre
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore could “work out very nicely” as officials from both countries sought to narrow differences on how to end a nuclear stand-off on the Korean peninsula
Kim, one of the world’s most reclusive leaders, made an evening tour of sites on Singapore’s waterfront, on the eve of the summit due to start on Tuesday at a nearby resort island.
In a tweet early on Tuesday, just hours before the summit, Trump said staff-level meetings between the countries were “going well and quickly … but in the end, that doesn’t matter. We will all know soon whether or not a real deal, unlike those of the past, can happen!”
While Trump was optimistic about prospects for the summit between the old foes, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo injected a note of caution ahead of the first-ever meeting of sitting U.S. and North Korean leaders, saying it remained to be seen whether Kim was sincere about his willingness to denuclearise.
Officials from the two sides held last-minute talks aimed at laying the groundwork for a meeting that was almost unthinkable just months ago when the two leaders were exchanging insults and threats that raised fears of war.
But after a flurry of diplomatic overtures eased tension in recent months, the two leaders are now headed for a history-making handshake that U.S. officials hope could eventually lead to the dismantling of a North Korean nuclear programme that threatens the United States.
Offering a preview to reporters, Pompeo said it could provide “an unprecedented opportunity to change the trajectory of our relationship and bring peace and prosperity” to North Korea.
However, he played down the possibility of a quick breakthrough and said the summit should set the framework for “the hard work that will follow”, insisting that North Korea had to move towards complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.
North Korea, though, has shown little appetite for surrendering nuclear weapons it considers vital to the survival of Kim’s dynastic rule.
Sanctions on North Korea would remain in place until that had happened, Pompeo said. “If diplomacy does not move in the right direction … those measures will increase.”
“North Korea has previously confirmed to us its willingness to denuclearise and we are eager to see if those words prove sincere,” he said.
The White House later said discussions with North Korea had moved “more quickly than expected” and Trump would leave Singapore on Tuesday night, after the summit. He had earlier been scheduled to leave on Wednesday.
Kim is due to leave on Tuesday afternoon, a source involved in the planning of his visit said on Sunday.
Kim was not believed to have left his hotel since a meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong soon after his arrival in the city on Sunday, but he ventured out on Monday evening.
The Swiss-educated leader, who is believed to be 34, has not left his isolated country since taking office in 2011 other than to visit China and the South Korean side of the border Demilitarised Zone, which separates the two Koreas.
His first stop was a waterfront park with futuristic installations, Gardens by the Bay, which boasts the largest glass greenhouse and tallest indoor waterfall in the world.
He joined Singapore’s foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, who took a selfie, before stopping at the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which resembles a giant surfboard perched on three tall columns, for a look out over the bright lights of the city from its rooftop garden and swimming pool.
On the way back to his hotel, Kim walked along a promenade near the Merlion, a giant statue, and fountain, of a mythical creature, half-lion, half-fish – Singapore’s unofficial mascot.
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