Days before summit, Trump raises prospect of easing North Korea sanctions

Kim Jong Un (left) and Donald Trump are seen during their summit in Singapore in June 2018.
PHOTO: Reuters

WASHINGTON/HANOI - A week before a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, United States President Donald Trump held out the prospect of an easing of tough sanctions on the country, but only if it does "something that's meaningful" on denuclearisation.

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Wednesday (Feb 20), Mr Trump also said he expects to meet Mr Kim again after their Feb 27-28 summit in Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital.

Mr Trump said he did not think North Korea was reluctant to denuclearise, in spite of a lack of concrete progress since he and Mr Kim met for a first summit in Singapore in June.

"I don't think they're reluctant; I think they want to do something," he said.

"We'll see what happens. The sanctions are on in full. I haven't taken sanctions off, as you know. I'd love to be able to, but in order to do that, we have to do something that's meaningful on the other side."

Mr Trump said he and Mr Kim had "a good relationship" and added: "I wouldn't be surprised to see something work out."

He said he and Mr Kim have made a lot of progress but "that doesn't mean this will be the last meeting".

Mr Trump's comment was his most explicit yet that the United States might be willing to consider easing sanctions on North Korea before Pyongyang completely abandons its nuclear weapons programme.

The administration has previously said that sanctions will remain in place until North Korea's complete denuclearisation.

Mr Trump spoke as his special envoy for North Korea was due in Hanoi to finalise preparations for the summit. Mr Stephen Biegun is expected to hold talks with his counterpart Kim Hyok Chol, who arrived in Hanoi on Wednesday.

Mr Trump said on Tuesday that he wants North Korea to end its nuclear programme "ultimately", but had no pressing time schedule for this, provided it stuck to a freeze in nuclear and missile testing in place since 2017.

When Mr Trump and Mr Kim Jong Un met in Singapore, it was the first ever meeting between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.

Mr Kim pledged then to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but negotiations have made little headway since, with North Korea demanding a lifting of punishing US-led sanctions, a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War and security guarantees.

In September, Mr Kim expressed willingness to permanently dismantle facilities at his country's main nuclear site of Yongbyon in return for corresponding US moves.

Mr Biegun held three days of talks in Pyongyang this month which he said would include discussion of such corresponding steps, but the State Department had offered no sign of any specific progress.

Mr Biegun said after his North Korea visit that his talks had been"productive" but there was "hard work to do" before the summit.

Sources in Hanoi said earlier that Vietnam was preparing for Mr Kim to arrive by train for the summit with Mr Trump.

It could take Mr Kim at least two and a half days to travel the thousands of kilometres through China by train, from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang to Vietnam, meaning he would have to set off later this week to be in time for his planned Feb 25 arrival.