North, U.S. tour summit venues in Hanoi

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North, U.S. tour summit venues in Hanoi


Kim Chang-son, director of the North’s State Affairs Commission, left, enters the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, a five-star hotel in central Hanoi, Vietnam, Saturday. The hotel is one of the possible locations where North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will stay throughout their visit to Vietnam for his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump on Feb. 27 to 28. [NEWS1]

Senior officials from both Pyongyang and Washington arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam, over the weekend to lay the groundwork for the upcoming second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump in the Vietnamese capital later this month.

Kim Chang-son, director of the North’s State Affairs Commission, landed in Hanoi Saturday while Daniel Walsh, White House deputy chief of staff of operations, arrived in the city Friday to prepare for the much-anticipated second summit, scheduled for Feb. 27 to 28. The two leaders will be pressed to deliver the concrete agreements that failed to surface at their first meeting in Singapore last June.

Sources in Hanoi reported Kim Chang-son first visited Vietnam’s state guest house in the city center, followed by an inspection of a nearby five-star hotel - the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi - which is said to top the list of possible places where Kim Jong-un will be staying throughout his stay in Vietnam.

As the top Pyongyang official in charge of organizing Kim Jong-un’s ceremonial protocol, the course taken by Kim Chang-son in Vietnam is likely to mirror the North Korean leader’s visit next week. Many of the venues visited by the envoy in Singapore last June were featured prominently during the first U.S.-North Korea summit, though a number of his activities were also feigned for security purposes.

Accompanying him was Kim Chol-gyu, deputy chief of the Supreme Guard Command, an elite bodyguard force in charge of protecting Kim Jong-un and his family. Kim Chol-gyu will take charge of security matters for the North Korean leader in the Vietnamese capital, where local officials have been tightening security at key facilities ahead of the summit.

Local press in Vietnam reported over the weekend that Kim Jong-un is set to arrive in Hanoi two days before the summit with Trump on Feb. 25 and meet with Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong.

Based on Kim Chang-son’s activities in Vietnam, the North’s leader is likely to visit a number of industrial facilities in Bac Ninh province near Hanoi as well as the country’s port city of Haiphong in a whirlwind trip resembling his brief tour of Singapore prior to his first meeting with Trump.

Remarkably, Kim Chang-son reportedly took a trip to the area around a Samsung smartphone factory in Bac Ninh, fueling speculation the North may be keen on attracting investments from major businesses in the South, emulating Vietnam.

Representatives of Samsung Electronics on Sunday denied that North Korean officials visited the factory.

The venue of the actual summit meeting between the two leaders has yet to be confirmed, but a newly constructed building of Hanoi’s National Convention Center appears to be the most likely. Access to the building - located nearby the JW Marriott Hotel in Hanoi, where it is believed Trump will be staying - has currently been shut off by local authorities, and workers were spotted planting flowers and decorations in its premises.

In the meantime, Trump has been dialing up anticipation for the summit, commenting at the White House on Friday that he expected it to be “equally as successful” as his first meeting with Kim in Singapore.

While the president again touted the “great chance for tremendous economic prosperity in the future” for the North if it denuclearizes, he added that he was in “no rush for speed” regarding the process and that he doesn’t want the North testing nuclear weapons.

Despite Trump’s optimism and ongoing logistical preparations for the summit, it remains unclear how much progress has actually been made toward a concrete deal by the nuclear negotiators on both sides. Stephen Biegun, the U.S. State Department’s special representative for North Korea, and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Hyok-chol, are also believed to be meeting in Hanoi for a third time Tuesday to continue their earlier negotiations in Pyongyang from Feb. 6 to 8.

Biegun said afterwards that the talks had been productive but that “we have some hard work to do with the DPRK between now and [the summit],” referring to North Korea by the acronym for its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

According to analysts, the lack of time until the summit compared to the long list of matters that need to be addressed elicits significant concern.

A number of sources familiar with the Pyongyang talks say the two sides wrangled over U.S. demands for the dismantlement of the North’s nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and possibly the declaration of all nuclear facilities inside North Korea as a step toward a comprehensive denuclearization process. This latter requirement has been cited by nuclear experts as key to putting a de facto freeze on the North’s nuclear enrichment and production capacities and providing a roadmap for the necessary verification processes to follow.

Pyongyang has reportedly demanded a partial relaxation of current economic sanctions against its regime, particularly surrounding inter-Korean exchanges in Kaesong and Mount Kumgang, though the United States has remained reluctant to agree to this, according to the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 10.

One concession the United States is reportedly considering is a declaration of an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, the first step towards a peace treaty between the two countries that would transform the current armistice to a permanent peace settlement.

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