Kim Jong-un heads to Vietnam by train ahead of Trump summit

Our Foreign Staff
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un departs Pyongyang Station for the second North Korea-US summit meeting in Hanoi - AFP

North Korea leader Kim Jong-un was on a train to Vietnam on Sunday for his second summit with President Donald Trump.

Mr Kim was accompanied by Kim Yong-chol, who has been a key negotiator in talks with the US, and Kim Yo-jong, the leader’s sister, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.

TV footage and photos distributed by the North’s state-run news agency showed Mr Kim inspecting a guard of honour at the Pyongyang station before waving from the train.

Late on Saturday, an Associated Press reporter saw a green-and-yellow train similar to one used in the past by Mr Kim cross into the Chinese border city of Dandong via a bridge.

The Trump-Kim meeting is slated for Wednesday and Thursday in Hanoi.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspects a guard of honour before boarding the train at Pyongyang Station Credit: AFP

Their first summit last June in Singapore ended without substantive agreements on the North’s nuclear disarmament and triggered a months-long stalemate in negotiations as Washington and Pyongyang struggled with the sequencing of North Korea’s nuclear disarmament and the removal of US-led sanctions against the North.

Mr Kim’s overseas travel plans are routinely kept secret. It could take more than two days for the train to travel thousands of miles through China to Vietnam.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday that Mr Kim would pay an official goodwill visit to the country "in the coming days" in response to an invitation by President Nguyen Phu Trong, who is also the general secretary of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party.

In his upcoming meeting with Mr Trump, experts say Mr Kim will seek a US commitment for improved bilateral relations and partial sanctions relief while trying to minimise any concessions on his nuclear facilities and weapons.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) departing Pyongyang Station for the second North Korea-US summit meeting in Hanoi Credit: AFP

While Mr Kim wants to leverage his nuclear and missile programme for economic and security benefits, there continue to be doubts on whether he’s ready to fully deal away an arsenal that he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival.

Last year, North Korea suspended its nuclear and long-range missile tests and unilaterally dismantled its nuclear testing ground and parts of a rocket launch facility without the presence of outside experts, but none of those steps were seen as meaningful cutbacks to the North’s weapons capability.

While North Korea has repeatedly demanded that the United States take corresponding measures, including sanctions relief, Washington has called for more concrete steps from Pyongyang toward denuclearisation.

A train believed to be carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un leaves from a train station in the Chinese border city of Dandong Credit: Reuters

Hanoi has been gearing up for the summit with beefed-up security. Officials say the colonial-era Government Guest House in central Hanoi is expected to be the venue for the Trump-Kim meeting, with the nearby Metropole Hotel as a backup. Streets around the two places have been beautified with flowers and the flags of North Korea, the US and Vietnam.

Workers were also putting final touches on the International Media Centre. Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry says some 2,600 members of the foreign press have registered for the event.

Meanwhile, Vietnam has announced a traffic ban along Mr Kim’s possible arrival route.

The Communist Party’s mouthpiece Nhan Dan newspaper quoted the Department of Roads as saying the ban will first apply to trucks 10 tons or bigger, and vehicles with nine seats or more on the 105-mile stretch of Highway One from Dong Dang, the border town with China, to Hanoi from 7 p.m. Monday to 2 p.m. Tuesday, followed by a complete ban Tuesday on all vehicles from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The People’s Committee in Lang Son province, where the Dong Dang railway station is located, issued a statement on Friday instructing the road operator to clean the highway stretch and suspend road works, among other things, on Feb. 24-28 as "a political task."