February 26, 2019
HANOI – Warming up for his meetings with Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump spoke to the leaders of Vietnam on Wednesday while proclaiming that their country can be a model for Kim, the North Korean dictator he described as "my friend."
Donald Trump says his friend Kim Jong Un can learn from Vietnam
"Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth. North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize," Trump tweeted near the start of a two-day summit with Kim.
Describing North Korea's economic potential as "AWESOME," Trump said it is "a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un. We will know fairly soon - Very Interesting!"
While the global media is covering the Trump-Kim summit, the U.S. president finds himself competing with events back home – including congressional testimony from former lawyer Michael Cohen, who is expected to accuse Trump of criminal conduct.
Trump tweeted before making a series of courtesy calls on the president, prime minister, and General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the hosts for the U.S.-North Korean summit. Trump is also expected to sign new commercial trade agreements with Vietnam.
The president praised the host country during a photo opp with Vietnam President Nguyen Phu Trong. Trump said both he and Kim feel good about holding the summit in Vietnam "because you really are an example as to what can happen, with good thinking.”
The North Korea summit starts later Wednesday, including a 20-minute one-on-one meeting between Trump and Kim, and a "working dinner" with the two leaders and their aides.
The United States is trying to get North Korea to take specific steps to junk its nuclear weapons programs; Kim wants the United States and other countries to first ease economic sanctions that have crippled his country.
At the same time, Trump has said he is "in no rush" to see North Korea denuclearize, and held out the hope of more economic development, possibly as a way to encourage North Korea to pursue the kinds of economic reforms Vietnam did three decades ago.
Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said there are two problems with Trump's Vietnam-inspired optimism, the first being that Kim has no intention of giving up his nuclear weapons because he sees them "as his country’s ultimate security guarantee."
Speaking on Twitter, Haass also said tweeted that Kim "has no desire to open up economically" a la Vietnam because he might "lose control" of his country.
"He wants sanctions relief, something (very) different," Haass tweeted.
Trump also finds himself sharing screen time abroad with domestic events.
In addition to Cohen's testimony, the Democratic-run U.S. House voted Monday to revoke Trump's declaration of a national emergency on the nation's southern border, though the Republican-run Senate is not expected to follow suit.
Some Democratic lawmakers are also questioning Trump's ability to deal with his authoritarian "friend" Kim, noting that the North Korean leader maintains political prisons and is accused of having his critics killed, including his uncle and his half-brother.
They also pointed out that Kim has taken no major steps toward denuclearization since a first meeting with Trump back in June.
“Donald Trump accomplished little during the first summit aside from elevating a brutal and cruel dictator on the world stage," said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois. "It is critical for this meeting to not be another PR stunt and for the President to obtain serious, measurable and verifiable commitments."
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