SINGAPORE: U.S. and North Korean officials held talks on Monday in a late bid to narrow differences before leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a summit in Singapore aimed at finding ways to end a nuclear stand-off on the Korean peninsula.
The two leaders arrived in the tropical city-state on Sunday.
Key gaps remain over what denuclearization would entail for two countries that have been enemies since the 1950-1953 Korean War, and the officials were trying to push the agenda forward before their leaders meet on Tuesday.
Commenting for the first time on the agenda, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency said the two sides would exchange “wide-ranging and profound views” to re-set relations. It heralded the summit as part of a “changed era”.
Discussions would focus on “the issue of building a permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean Peninsula, the issue of realizing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and other issues of mutual concern,” KCNA said.
In the lead up to the summit, North Korea rejected any unilateral nuclear disarmament, and KCNA’s reference to the denuclearization of the peninsula has historically meant that Pyongyang wants the United States to remove its “nuclear umbrella” protecting South Korea and Japan.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is also in Singapore, said in a tweet that Washington was “committed to the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”.
A Trump administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. side was entering the talks with a sense of optimism and an equal dose of skepticism given North Korea’s long history of developing nuclear weapons.
“We will not be surprised by any scenario,” said the official.
With the eyes of the world following him, Trump flew into Singapore’s Paya Lebar Air Base aboard Air Force One on Sunday, fresh from a divisive G7 meeting in Canada with some of Washington’s closest allies that further strained global trade ties.
In a tweet on Monday, he said: “Great to be in Singapore, excitement in the air!”
Kim had arrived hours earlier on a plane loaned by China, which for decades has been North Korea’s only major ally. Both leaders were greeted on arrival by Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
When Trump and Kim meet at 9 a.m. (0100 GMT) on Tuesday they will be making history as leaders of their two countries have never met previously – or even spoken on the telephone.
The summit’s venue is the Capella hotel on Sentosa, a resort island off Singapore’s port with a Universal Studios theme park and man-made beaches.