WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump is downplaying expectations for his second summit next week with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, but is predicting "it'll be a very exciting couple of days."
Trump said he spoke on Tuesday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in about the upcoming talks and he will also be phoning Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday.
Moon told Trump that Seoul "is ready to play that role by reconnecting inter-Korean railways and roads and launching inter-Korean economic cooperation projects if asked by President Trump and said it was a way to lessen the United States' burden," said the South Korean Blue House in a statement.
Trump is to meet Kim in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, on Feb. 27 and 28 as a follow-up to their first summit last June in Singapore.
Some critics contend that the initial encounter resulted in nothing binding beyond a historical handshake, and Pyongyang has taken no steps to rid itself of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenal.
"I think a lot can come from it. At least I hope so — the denuclearization ultimately," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon, declaring his relationship with Kim to be "very strong."
'No rush' on denuclearization
The president said as long as there is no testing of rockets, missiles or nuclear weapons by Pyongyang, he is in "no rush" to see North Korea denuclearize.
"A lot of the media would like to say: 'What's going on? Speed, speed, speed.' No rush whatsoever. We're going to have our meeting. We'll see what happens. I think ultimately we're going to be very successful," Trump said.
The president said there is now "a lot of sane thinking" coming out of Pyongyang, a reversal from early in his administration when Trump threatened to unleash "fire and fury" on North Korea and belittled Kim as "little rocket man."
Trump emphasized that as long as Kim maintains his moratorium on testing his nuclear arsenal, "I'm in no rush. If there's testing, that's another deal."
The U.S. special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, was traveling to Vietnam on Tuesday to prepare for next week's summit there, according to the State Department.
"Those commitments made at the Singapore summit will be fulfilled," said Robert Palladino, the deputy spokesperson at the State Department, in response to a question from VOA as to whether the president's latest remarks denote a U.S. policy change.
"This is a top-down approach" with Kim and Trump meeting directly that, if successful, "could fundamentally transform relations between our two countries," Palladino told reporters.
"I'm not going to get ahead of diplomatic conversations or ahead of the president," Palladino replied, when asked about a CNN report that Washington and Pyongyang are in discussions about exchanging liaison officers. "A lot of things are being discussed."
Two months ago, National Security Adviser John Bolton said North Korea had not lived up to its commitments made at the Singapore summit and that is why Trump wanted a follow-up summit.
Ballistic missile program
Independent analysts say satellite imagery indicates North Korea is moving forward with its ballistic missile program.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington published a report last Friday on what it said was the third undisclosed missile base it had spotted since November.
At the first meeting with Trump, Kim committed to work toward complete denuclearization but that was left undefined with no timetable.
Bolton, who was in the Oval Office on Tuesday for Trump's remarks, back in December said if North Korea follows through on its commitments then "President Trump will deserve the Nobel Peace Prize."
Trump said last Friday that Abe had nominated him for the prize but, "I'll probably never get it," adding that his predecessor, Barack Obama, who was awarded the honor in 2009, "didn't even know what he got it for."
Trump said the Japanese leader nominated him because there were North Korean "rocket ships and he had missiles flying over Japan. And they had alarms going off. ... Now, all of a sudden, they feel good. They feel safe. I did that."
Nike Ching at the State Department contributed to this report.