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In Hanoi, Trump looks to develop a ‘phased’ North Korean denuclearization

Last June's summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un marked the first time a sitting U.S. president met a North Korean leader. Now the two are convening in Vietnam, whose economic resurgence U.S. officials hope can serve as an incentive for North Korea to prioritize cooperation with the U.S. Judy Woodruff talks to Nick Schifrin, who is reporting from Hanoi, about the summit's policy goals.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to our other top story, that is the second summit between President Trump and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un.

    Our Nick Schifrin is there reporting on the summit with a "NewsHour" team, and he sets the scene on day one from Hanoi, Vietnam.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In the capital of a former enemy, President Trump once again extended his hand to a historic adversary, and said he was making Kim Jong-un an offer he can't refuse.

  • Donald Trump:

    I think that your country has tremendous economic potential, unbelievable, unlimited. And I think that you will have a tremendous future with your country, a great leader. And I look forward to watching it happen, and helping it to happen. And we will help it to happen.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The 72-year-old New Yorker and 35-year-old North Korean dictator displayed mutual warmth. And Kim, whose country has never allowed a free press, told reporters the two leaders' mutual efforts to make this summit happen could help overcome decades of distrust.

  • Kim Jong-un:

    Here we are today, sitting next to each other, and that gives us a hope that we will be successful this time, and I will try to make that happen.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This bromance was once unthinkable, until last June's Singapore summit, the first time a sitting U.S. president met a North Korean leader. But their agreement was criticized for lacking specifics. Today, the president said it was all going as planned.

  • Donald Trump:

    We had a very successful first summit. I thought it was very successful. And some people would like to see it go quicker. I'm satisfied. You're satisfied. We want to be happy with what we're doing.

    There's nothing like having a nice private dinner.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The smiles continued after a 30-minute private conversation, and before dinner with Kim's top aides and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

    The president predicted the summit would succeed.

  • Donald Trump:

    A lot of things are going to be solved, I hope. And I think it'll lead to wonderful — it will lead to, really, a wonderful situation long-term.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That situation is a promise of the prosperity on display in Hanoi. The U.S. is urging North Korea to consider communist Vietnam's economic opening and 7 percent growth a model.

    It's not lost on the U.S. delegation that in the hotel where Kim is staying, Rolls-Royce has its Hanoi showroom, featuring a $600,000 Ghost. Today, Vietnamese workers welcomed a North Korean delegation to Vietnam's largest conglomerate. North Korean officials toured a vehicle factory and a food supply company.

    Forty-five years after the Vietnam War, the U.S. and Hanoi have reconciled. Whether economic incentives and a personal connection can deliver the same with nuclear North Korea remains to be seen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Nick joins us now from Hanoi.

    So, Nick, what is the U.S. side looking for going into this summit?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Judy, senior U.S. officials describe wanting to be much more specific going into this summit than they were before Singapore and really looking for three aspects, one, a shared definition of denuclearization.

    That might seem obvious because the two sides have been talking about that for years, but it really has eluded both sides. And it's a question of whether that includes not only North Korean nuclear assets, but also U.S. assets. And it's a real focus on the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, the heart of North Korea's nuclear program.

    Number two, they're really looking to freeze North Korea's nuclear and missile program. There have been no tests for the last 15 months. The U.S. is looking to expand that freeze to include the fuel that goes into nuclear weapons.

    And, number three, a road map for going forward, not necessarily all the steps up front, but an agreement on which steps will have to be coming soon, and when those steps will come.

    And that's a big shift, Judy. The U.S. in the past has demand front-loaded moves by North Korea before the U.S. made moves. Now both sides are talking about phased approach, simultaneous steps both can take.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what about North Korea? What do we know about what they're looking for going into this?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Issues one, two, three, and five are sanctions relief.

    There are a lot of U.S., E.U. and U.N. sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear policy, nuclear program, missile program, and also its horrific human rights records. The U.S. says it won't lift of any of those sanctions unless there is major concessions by the North Koreans on those programs.

    But there is some talk, according to the experts we're talking to, about helping South Korea and North Korea communicate across the border, especially humanitarian and perhaps economic issues. And that would require some sanctions relief.

    And, of course, there is the question of the declaration of the end of the Korean War. That is not necessarily the top North Korean issue, but North Korea does want to focus on its economy. And to do that, Judy, it needs to lower the tension with the U.S. And, obviously, one way to do that would be to try and end the war.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, quickly, that raises the last question I had, and that is, to what extent are the North Koreans interested in some sort of economic improvement as a result of all this?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The steps that Vietnam has taken are kind of the model that the U.S. is trying to convince North Korea to take, liberalization of markets, more privatization.

    The experts say that North Korea could do that, but also doesn't consider Vietnam a good model, because they consider themselves actually more modern and more industrialized than Vietnam. And so there's a lot of questions about whether the U.S. can convince North Korea to consider Vietnam.

    But, Judy, one quick thing. Right behind me is where John McCain went down before he became a prisoner in Hanoi, the U.S. coming to Vietnam, trying to send the signal to North Korea that the U.S. has no permanent enemies.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nick Schifrin, following it all from Hanoi, thank you.

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