Kim opens door to US presence in Pyongyang at nuke talks

28 Feb 2019, Hanoi

Kim Jong Un Thursday raised the prospect of a permanent US diplomatic presence in Pyongyang, as President Donald Trump said he was in “no rush” for a speedy deal over North Korea’s nuclear programme.

The North Korean leader said he would welcome the opening of a US liaison office in his capital. It would be an initial step on the road to normalising diplomatic ties between two countries on opposite sides of the Korean War, which is technically still not over.

Asked about the possibility of a liaison office — below the level of an embassy — in between talks sessions on the second day of the Hanoi summit, Kim told reporters: “I think it is something that is worth welcoming.” For his part, Trump said the idea was a “great thing”.

The two leaders are holding their second summit in eight months, with analysts warning they must come up with more concrete progress than their historic meeting in Singapore in June dismissed by some as a made-for-TV show.

That encounter resulted in cosy images but only a vague commitment from Kim to “work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”. Diplomacy has since stalled amid disagreements on what that actually means.

As they sat down for Thursday’s formal discussions in Hanoi, Trump said he was in “no rush” to seal a deal and that “speed was not that important” to him as long as the North’s pause in missile and nuclear testing continued.

“I can’t speak necessarily for today, but I can say that this, a little bit longer-term, and over a period of time, I know we’re going to have a fantastic success with respect to Chairman Kim and North Korea,” said Trump.

Trump again touted the possibility of impoverished North Korea becoming an “economic powerhouse” if it gave up its nuclear arsenal — an outcome analysts say is extremely unlikely.

Kim said he would not be sitting down with Trump if he were not ready to denuclearise but stressed that they were still thrashing out the concrete details. The Pyongyang strongman is looking for relief from sanctions imposed on the North because of its weapons programmes, which saw tensions soar in 2017 before a wave of detente.

He said there were “people who hold a sceptical view of our meeting” but pledged to seek “great, ultimately good results”.

“I think watching us have a great time will be like watching a scene from a fantasy movie,” he added. The North maintains total control over every aspect of Kim’s domestic appearances, but he several times answered shouted questions from foreign reporters — believed to be unprecedented.

The state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper plastered photographs of their first Hanoi handshake on Wednesday over its front page, one of them appearing to show Trump bowing slightly as he took Kim’s hand.

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