American and North Korean officials met in Singapore to narrow the differences between the two countries, as Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un is preparing for its historic summit in the city state on Tuesday.
While North Korea spoke of establishing a new “permanent peace-keeping mechanism” and its state-run news agency hailed a “new era” in relations with the US, Trump tweeted on Monday about how pleased he was to be in Singapore.
“Excitement in the air!” he wrote in a tweet.
The format for the historic talks, at a luxury island hotel, was still far from clear. A US official said that the first session of the Tuesday morning talks would be between two leaders alone with translators but no advisors and aides. They would enter the negotiating room only after that first one-on-one session was over. The official said it was unclear how long that first session would last.
It was reported that Kim planned to fly back to North Korea in the early afternoon on Tuesday, leaving very little time for actual negotiations, although there is still considerable uncertainty about what a deal between the leaders would look like.
The Pyongyang regime envisages denuclearisation as a gradual and somewhat amorphous process, in which both sides take phased reciprocal steps to defuse tensions with the ultimate, but distant goal of nuclear disarmament.
The Trump administration has previously insisted on “complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament” (CVID) of North Korea, with the emphasis on unilateral steps by Pyongyang rewarded by US security assurances. But the president has significantly softened the US negotiating stance in the immediate run-up to the summit, accepting the prospect of an open-ended negotiations involving multiple future summits.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, muddied the picture further on Monday, by melding the two concepts in a tweet showing him at breakfast with US negotiators, saying the US remained “committed to the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”
The North Korea state run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said Tuesday’s meeting would discuss “wide-ranging and profound views on the issue of establishing new DPRK-US relations, the issue of building a permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean peninsula.”
The KCNA news agency heralded the summit as part of a “changed era.”
US and North Korean negotiators met in a Singapore hotel on Monday, seeking to clarify the shape of Tuesday’s summit, where Trump has said he intends to guided by instinct.
Most observers predicted that the outcome would be a short and vague statement build around the ambiguous aim of the “denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula” leaving it to later bilateral meetings to negotiate what that would mean in practice.
Kim was the first to arrive in Singapore, landing at Changi airport on a commercial Air China plane, after intense speculation with the public tracking three separate aircraft leaving Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
It is the farthest Kim has travelled since inheriting power in 2011, and only his third known trip outside the country since then, with the use of a Chinese plane raising questions over the state of North Korea’s ageing fleet of Soviet-built aircraft.
As Kim’s black Mercedes arrived at the St Regis hotel in downtown Singapore, it was flanked by bodyguards in identical black suits jogging alongside the car.
Kim met the Singaporean prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, briefly on Sunday, smiling broadly as the two posed for photographs.
“The entire world is watching the historic summit between [North Korea] and the United States of America, and thanks to your sincere efforts … we were able to complete the preparations for the historic summit,” Kim told Lee through an interpreter. Trump is expected to meet Lee on Monday.
Trump arrived a few hours after Kim on Air Force One, directly from a tumultuous G7 summit in Quebec, which ended in a bitter personal exchange between the US president and the host, the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
Even after touching down in Singapore, it was clear that the trade disputes with US allies in Quebec continued to rankle Trump.
“Sorry, we cannot let our friends, or enemies, take advantage of us on trade anymore,” Trump wrote in a tweet. “We must put the American worker first!”
Trump and his entourage met the Singaporean prime minister for lunch on Monday. He told Lee: “We’ve got very interesting meeting in particular tomorrow, and I just think it’s going to work out very nicely.”