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Kim Jong Un Heads to Hanoi for Meeting With Trump

The Wall Street Journal. logoThe Wall Street Journal. 24/02/2019 Jonathan Cheng, Timothy W. Martin

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left Pyongyang by train for Hanoi, North Korean state media reported Sunday morning, in its first official acknowledgment of the closely watched two-day summit meeting with President Trump.

The meeting in the Vietnamese capital, which follows a historic first summit between the two leaders in Singapore in June last year, is set to take place on Feb. 27 and 28.

President Trump announced the plans on Twitter three weeks ago, and Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry has officially confirmed the meeting.

In this Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, photo provided on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves from a train before leaving Pyongyang Station, North Korea, for Vietnam. Kim was on a train Sunday to Vietnam for his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, state media confirmed. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP) © Getty In this Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, photo provided on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves from a train before leaving Pyongyang Station, North Korea, for Vietnam. Kim was on a train Sunday to Vietnam for his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, state media confirmed. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

But North Korea had refrained from making any mention of the coming summit through official channels until the last minute, as it has done ahead of other planned summit meetings, including with South Korean President Moon Jae-in last year.

The summit is aimed at dealing with North Korea’s growing nuclear program and “advancing the cause of peace,” Mr. Trump said in announcing the meeting earlier this month.

© luong thai linh/Shutterstock Mr. Pompeo said in an interview on Thursday that “complete denuclearization” remained the goal of the Trump administration.

According to Sunday’s report, Mr. Kim was accompanied by Kim Yong Chol, the senior North Korean official who he has been sent twice to the White House and who has served as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s primary interlocutor. Mr. Kim was also accompanied by Kim Yo Jong, his younger sister, and Choe Son Hui, a senior diplomat who has long taken the lead on ties with the U.S.

U.S. President Donald Trump speals to North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un before their expanded bilateral meeting at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst © Getty U.S. President Donald Trump speals to North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un before their expanded bilateral meeting at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst The report didn’t mention Kim Hyok Chol, who the North has designated as a counterpart to Steve Biegun, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea. Kim Hyok Chol is in Hanoi making preparations for next week’s meeting. Sunday’s report also didn’t include Ri Sol Ju, the wife of Kim Jong Un, who has joined the North Korean leader on trips to China to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Sunday’s announcement also clears up some uncertainty about how Mr. Kim, the North Korean leader, would travel to the Vietnamese capital. He flew to last year’s summit in Singapore aboard a Chinese plane.

In this Jan. 29, 2019, photo, U.S and North Korean flags are on display for sale at a flag shop in Hanoi, Vietnam. Vietnam's selection as the venue for the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is largely a matter of convenience and security, but not without bigger stakes. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh) © Getty In this Jan. 29, 2019, photo, U.S and North Korean flags are on display for sale at a flag shop in Hanoi, Vietnam. Vietnam's selection as the venue for the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is largely a matter of convenience and security, but not without bigger stakes. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)

During his visit to Hanoi, Mr. Kim will also pay a visit to the Vietnamese president, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry and North Korean state media said, adding only that the meeting would take place in coming days.

An official visit to Vietnam, the first by a North Korean leader in nearly 55 years, holds particular importance for Mr. Kim and his plans to pursue economic development.

President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) © Getty President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

By meeting with President Nguyen Phu Trong, Mr. Kim has a chance to cement ties with the leader of a former U.S. adversary and tightly controlled communist nation whose booming economy the North has studied closely.

North Korea is facing an “historic turning point,” the country’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said in a commentary this past week that called for renewed efforts to develop the economy. “It is time for us to tighten our shoe strings and run fast, looking for a higher target as we are facing a decisive moment.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiles as he meets with President Donald Trump on Sentosa Island, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) © Getty North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiles as he meets with President Donald Trump on Sentosa Island, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In drawing closer to Vietnam, Mr. Kim would also appear less beholden to China, his top economic partner. Such a step would be seen favorably by many North Korean elites, and would give Mr. Kim ideas about how to build his economy without shifting away from the regime structure, said Scott Seaman, director for Asia at Eurasia Group in Washington.

“Kim can demonstrate that he is able to hobnob with both President Xi and President Nguyen, indicating to them and the world that he is his own man and won’t hesitate to build relationships with whomever he sees fit,” Mr. Seaman said.

Gallery: Life in North Korea: What you are allowed to see (USA TODAY)

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