U.S. President Donald Trump is predicting good relations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their summit this week in Vietnam, with the White House saying the main goal of the talks is the denuclearization of North Korea.
"We see eye to eye, I believe, but you'll be seeing it more and more over the next couple of days," Trump said Sunday.
"We're going to have, I think, a very interesting two and a half days in Vietnam," he told a group of state governors at a White House ball. "And we have a chance for the total denuclearization of an area of the world that was very dangerous."
The two leaders met last June, after which Trump declared, "there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."
But as he meets Wednesday and Thursday with Kim in Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, there is little concrete evidence that progress has been made to set the specific terms of North Korea's promised denuclearization.
When asked about what the definition of such denuclearization would be, a senior Trump administration official declined to discuss those details citing the ongoing talks.
"We're in the midst of negotiations with the North Koreans right now, and I would be loath to characterize their positions in that press interview while we're in the midst of those negotiations. Just suffice it to say we're discussing this and many other issues this week," the official said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN on Sunday "there is no change" in U.S. economic sanctions targeting North Korea until it agrees to "full verifiable denuclearization."
He said the United States is "happy to make security assurances" for North Korea's survival as an independent state, to "make North Korea more like South Korea" as an economic power. He said the U.S. is offering North Korea an alternative to "becoming a pariah state."
But he acknowledged "we've got work to do" to reach an agreement on how and when Pyongyang would destroy its nuclear arsenal.
"A demonstrable step (toward denuclearization) is very much what President Trump is focused on," Pompeo said. The top U.S. diplomat said American officials are aware of North Korea's history, over decades, of making promises to disarm and then abrogating agreements.
Trump is scheduled to leave for Hanoi on Monday, with Kim already headed to Vietnam in an armored train.
North Korea's official news media carried photos of Kim boarding his train and announced he was heading to Vietnam to meet with the U.S. president for a second time. It was the first time that North Korean state media have reported on the summit.
In the early months of his presidency, Trump said he would unleash "fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea for its threats against the U.S. and its allies.
But on Sunday, Trump tweeted, "Great relationship with Chairman Kim!"
President Xi of China has been very helpful in his support of my meeting with Kim Jong Un. The last thing China wants are large scale nuclear weapons right next door. Sanctions placed on the border by China and Russia have been very helpful. Great relationship with Chairman Kim!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2019
The U.S. leader said Kim "realizes, perhaps better than anyone else, that without nuclear weapons, his country could fast become one of the great economic powers anywhere in the World. Because of its location and people (and him), it has more potential for rapid growth than any other nation!"
Trump said Chinese President Xi Jinping "has been very helpful in his support of my meeting with Kim Jong Un. The last thing China wants are large scale nuclear weapons right next door. Sanctions placed on the border by China and Russia have been very helpful."
Chairman Kim realizes, perhaps better than anyone else, that without nuclear weapons, his country could fast become one of the great economic powers anywhere in the World. Because of its location and people (and him), it has more potential for rapid growth than any other nation!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2019
U.S. intelligence officials remain skeptical that North Korea intends to follow through on Kim's Singapore pledge to denuclearize.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a congressional panel last month that North Korea "has halted its provocative behavior" by refraining from missile tests and nuclear tests for more than a year. "As well, Kim Jong Un continues to demonstrate openness to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Coats said.
Despite the end to testing, Coats said, "We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its (weapons of mass destruction) capabilities, and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities."
"Our assessment is bolstered by our observations of some activity that is inconsistent with full denuclearization," he added.
Coats said the North Korean leader and the rest of the country's rulers "view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival."