Donald Trump has said he “truly believes North Korea has brilliant potential” as diplomats from US met Pyongyang officials to prepare for his upcoming meeting with leader Kim Jong-un.
The North “will be a great economic and financial Nation one day”, the US president tweeted on Sunday night, adding: ” Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this. It will happen!”
The border visit by diplomats comes despite Mr Trump having cancelled the historic summit just days ago. The lead US negotiator, former US ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim, arrived in the border village of Panmunjom alongside Allison Hooker, the White House National Security Council’s Korea expert. The pair met with Choe Son Hui, the North Korean vice foreign minister.
South Korean president Moon Jae-in said he and Mr Kim had ”agreed that the 12 June summit should be held successfully”, while the State Department said it “continue[d] to prepare” for the encounter.
Mr Moon noted the North Korean leader had “again made clear his commitment to a complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.
For its part, North Korean state-run media said Mr Kim had expressed a “fixed will” to meet Mr Trump.
Mr Moon also acknowledged during a news conference in Seoul that Pyongyang and Washington may have differing expectations of what denuclearisation means and he urged both sides to hold working-level talks to resolve their differences.
The tensions of the past weeks, spurred by joint US-South Korea military exercises taking place in the region, appear to have eased somewhat. Mr Trump said earlier in the weekend that things were “moving along nicely” ahead of the summit he had just cancelled in a letter citing North Korea’s “open hostility” in recent statements.
He noted in the letter that the withdrawal from the Singapore meeting was “for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world”.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency said afterwards that Pyongyangt would not “beg” for the summit to happen and would not unilaterally denuclearise.
US vice president Mike Pence had warned the stand-off ”may end like Libya“ if Mr Kim did not make a deal – echoing comments by national security adviser John Bolton regarding the “Libyan model”, which had angered the North Koreans.
The example of Libya has long been cited by North Korea as one of the reasons for it to hold onto its nuclear bombs, with leader Muammar Gaddafi having been ousted and killed after he renounced the atomic weapons. Pyongyang called Mr Pence’s remarks “ignorant and stupid”.
And it called the ongoing military drills, which included F-16 fighter jets, a “rehearsal for [an] invasion of the North and a provocation amid warming inter-Korean ties” and cancelled scheduled peace talks with its peninsular neighbour.
Ri Son Gwon, chairman of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification, also called the South Korean government “ignorant and incompetent”.
That was just weeks after Mr Kim and Mr Moon participated in a historic and opulent ceremony during which they signed the Panmunjom Declaration.
The signing took place in the neutral Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas and committed both leaders to moving towards an official peace declaration – a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
Pyongyang has also expressed its displeasure with Mr Bolton. He clashed with North Korean authorities when he worked in the administration of former President George W Bush and it seems they have not forgotten it.
Mr Kim said the country has “repugnance” towards Mr Bolton, particularly after the advisor suggested the president approach the upcoming summit as the US did with Libya in 2004.
The back-and-forth between Mr Trump and Mr Kim holding the meeting is another sign of a relationship characterised by diplomatic drama.
The pair routinely traded barbs in 2017 – Mr Trump referring to Mr Kim as “rocket man” and the North Korean leader calling the president a “dotard” – as the US president repeatedly hinted that military action would be the only way to stop North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Pyongyang threatened the Pacific Ocean US territory of Guam, Alaska, Hawaii, and even the west coast of the continental US with its intercontinental ballistic missile tests and development.
Last autumn, Mr Trump said he would unleash “fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before” and “totally destroy” North Korea.
The United Nations then passed strict sanctions on North Korea including oil and gas, textiles, seafood, and financial transactions. Unlike a number of previous efforts at sanctions one of Mr Kim’s few allies, China, said it would implement them.
But, by the time the February 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea came around, the two leaders reached a detente of sorts. The thaw continued to the point where Mr Trump felt able to accept an invitation to meet Mr Kim on the spur of the moment, during a visit to Washington by South Korean diplomats.
The decision, made in March, took even his own administration by surprise.