US and North Korean officials were in talks in Singapore on Monday in a late bid to narrow differences before their leaders hold an historic summit aimed at finding ways to end a nuclear stand-off on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump arrived in the tropical city-state on Sunday for the first ever face-to-face meeting by leaders of two countries that have been enemies since the 1950-1953 Korean War.
With gaps remaining over what denuclearization would entail, officials from both sides were trying to push the agenda forward ahead of Tuesday’s summit.
Commenting for the first time on the agenda, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency said the two sides would exchange “wide-ranging and profound views” to re-set relations. It heralded the summit as part of a “changed era”.
Discussions would focus on “the issue of building a permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean peninsula, the issue of realizing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and other issues of mutual concern,” KCNA said.
In the lead up to the summit, North Korea rejected any unilateral nuclear disarmament, and KCNA’s reference to denuclearization of the peninsula has historically meant that Pyongyang wants the United States to remove its “nuclear umbrella” protecting South Korea and Japan.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is also in Singapore, said in a tweet that Washington was “committed to the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.
Many experts on North Korea, one of the most insular and unpredictable countries in the world, remain skeptical Kim will ever completely abandon its cherished nuclear weapons. They believe Kim’s latest engagement is aimed at getting the United States to ease the crippling sanctions that have squeezed the impoverished country.
A Trump administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US side was entering the talks with a sense of optimism and an equal dose of scepticism given North Korea’s long history of developing nuclear weapons.
“We will not be surprised by any scenario,” said the official.
The official said Trump and Kim would hold a one-on-one meeting on Tuesday that could last up to two hours. He described it as a “get to know you plus” meeting.
Later, a meeting including officials could last another hour.
With the eyes of the world following him, Trump flew into Singapore’s Paya Lebar Air Base aboard Air Force One on Sunday, fresh from a divisive G7 meeting in Canada with some of Washington’s closest allies that further strained global trade ties.
Asked by a reporter how he felt about the summit, Trump said: “Very good”.
In a tweet on Monday, he said: “Great to be in Singapore, excitement in the air!”
Kim had arrived hours earlier in a plane loaned by China, which for decades has been North Korea’s only major ally. Both leaders were greeted on arrival by Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.