SINGAPORE - Envoys from the United States and North Korea are holding talks to iron out any last-minute differences before Tuesday's historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that veteran diplomat Sung Kim is leading the U.S. delegation in a working group meeting Monday at the city-state's Ritz Carlton hotel. The North Korea side is being led by Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui.
Monday's meeting is apparently aimed at narrowing the gap between the U.S. and North Korea over the demand for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
President Trump expressed confidence about his meeting upon his arrival in Singapore Sunday, telling reporters after stepping down from Air Force One that he his feeling "very good" about Tuesday's summit.
Ahead of his arrival, Trump acknowledged he is heading into “unknown territory” for the meeting Tuesday.
In response to a question from VOA News just before heading to Asia from the Group of Seven summit in Canada, Trump said “I really feel confident” about the unprecedented encounter between a sitting American president and a member of the family dynasty which has maintained iron-fist control over one of the world’s most reclusive countries for three generations.
Trump added that he believes Kim, half the age of the American president, “wants to do something great for his people.” But Trump cautioned that Kim “won’t have that opportunity again” if the talks do not go well -- describing this opportunity for diplomacy with the United States as a “one-time shot.”
Trump and others in his government have said advancement has been made on obtaining a commitment from Kim to give up all his nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. Progress could lead to a peace treaty and formally end a state of war on the Korean peninsula, which has persisted for nearly 70 years.
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Whether such a deal can be done, Trump declared on Saturday, is something he will know almost from the moment they meet.
“I think within the first minute – my touch, my feel, that’s what I do,” the president said, touting his deal-making experience as a businessman.
If that feeling is not positive, Trump predicted: “I don’t want to waste my time. I don’t want to waste his time.”
Trump spoke to a group of White House reporters in Charlevoix in the Canadian province of Quebec after cutting short his appearance at the G-7 leaders’ gathering.
Trump acknowledged the difficulty of gleaning much information concerning Kim, who has scant experience on the international stage and about whom foreign intelligence agencies have struggled to gather much beyond basic biographical data.
“This is a leader who is really an unknown personality,” Trump said. Despite that, “we’re going in with a very positive spirit” and “I think very well prepared.”
Kim arrived in Singapore mid-afternoon Sunday, amid much speculation about the outcome of Tuesday's talks.
Trump pushed back on criticism that giving the North Korean leader a meeting with an American president is a major concession with nothing of value in return. He noted the goodwill gesture of Pyongyang recently releasing “three hostages” – Americans who had been imprisoned in the country - and that was enough for him to proceed with the summit.
“It’s never been done before,” Trump said of a U.S.-North Korean leaders’ meeting. “Obviously what has been done before hasn’t worked.”
Risk of failure
U.S. officials traveling with the president – as well as analysts -- have acknowledged the risk that even the smallest of perceived slights by either side could prompt one of the leaders to instantly call it all off.
Trump has had recent discussions with South Korean Moon Jae-in, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping -- who all have vested interests in the outcome -- about matters he plans to raise.
Asked by VOA News if he will bring up North Korea’s egregious human rights record – including its system of gulags for civilians deemed enemies of the state – and the unresolved fate of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents over the decades, Trump replied, “We’re going to bring everything up.”
The president is accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo -- who has visited Pyongyang twice to prepare for the summit -- and National Security Advisor John Bolton, a hardliner on dealing with North Korea.