President Trump announced in his second State of the Union address Tuesday that he is planning to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a two-day summit in Vietnam in late February.
“We continue our historic push for peace on the Korean peninsula,” Mr. Trump said, adding that if he had not been elected, war would’ve broken out between the U.S. and North Korea.
The high-profile meeting on Feb. 27 and 28 would be the second one between the president and North Korea’s authoritarian ruler. The two leaders met during a landmark summit in the island-nation of Singapore last June and agreed to flesh out details of an agreement to start the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula — a long-sought and elusive foreign policy goal of American administrations since the 1950s.
The official also pointed to the trajectory of relations between America and Vietnam — which were foes during the Vietnam War but have built a good relationship in recent years — as a hopeful model for potential warmer relations between U.S. and North Korea.
U.S. forces have been deployed in neighboring South Korea since the height of the civil war in the peninsula, which has technically not ended because no armistice was ever signed. Large-scale fighting ceased in the summer of 1953.
The president has recently sought to downplay North Korea’s national security threat. “North Korea relationship is best it has ever been with U.S. No testing, getting remains, hostages returned. Decent chance of Denuclearization…” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter last week.
“Time will tell what will happen with North Korea, but at the end of the previous administration, relationship was horrendous and very bad things were about to happen,” the president added in a follow-up tweet. “Now a whole different story. I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un shortly. Progress being made-big difference!”
But national security officials in Mr. Trump’s administration’s have refuted his assertions and continue to highlight the threat of North Korea’s nuclear stockpile — as well as Jong-Un’s apparent reluctance to reduce it.
A White House official with knowledge of the summit’s planning told CBS News that Vietnam was picked as the location in part because of the good ties the south Asian country has with both the U.S. and North Korea.
A Department of Defense missile defense assessment published in January said North Korea still poses an “extraordinary threat” to America’s national security. During an annual hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week, Mr. Trump’s own top intelligence officials stressed that North Korea is a threat that shouldn’t be ignored.
Mr. Trump has also pointed to North Korea’s lack of missile tests since his June meeting with the North Korean leader as evidence of the success of his strategy, but North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told the United Nations General Assembly in October there was “no way” North Korea would get rid of its nuclear arsenal because it could not trust Washington. Last week, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats testified that North Korea was unlikely to ever denuclearize.