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Trump set for second encounter with Kim as world waits

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - FEBRUARY 25: (AFP-OUT) President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One to depart for Vietnam for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on February 25, 2019 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. This will be the second summit between North Korea and the United States on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump embarks Wednesday on another round of high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, a follow-up encounter that officials in the US and across Asia are watching with trepidation as the President works to convert personal chemistry into real progress.

After a day-long flight from Washington, Trump spent the evening in Hanoi preparing for two days of talks with Kim. Before their first greeting on Wednesday evening, Trump was due to meet with Vietnamese officials, who are hosting the session and casting their capital as a city of peace.

Later, he’ll meet up with Kim at the French colonial Metropole Hotel, the city’s finest, for their first one-on-one conversation of the summit. A small dinner — billed by the White House as a social encounter — will follow. Trump will be joined there by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Before he departed for his meetings with the Vietnamese government at the mustard-colored presidential palace, Trump issued a series of tweets laying the foundation for his day — praising Vietnam and criticizing Democrats for their skepticism of his diplomatic gamble.

“The Democrats should stop talking about what I should do with North Korea and ask themselves instead why they didn’t do “it” during eight years of the Obama Administration?” Trump tweeted around 9:45 a.m. local time.

He did not specify what “it” referred to.

In another tweet, Trump praised Vietnam as “thriving like few places on earth.”

“North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize,” Trump wrote. “The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un. We will know fairly soon – Very Interesting!”

US officials said they selected Vietnam partly as an example for Kim of a communist former US foe that is now a bustling and thriving economy. Trump wants to convince Kim that abandoning his nuclear program would trigger new economic opportunity in his country.

Ahead of their talks, it remained unclear what steps Kim was willing to take toward eliminating his nuclear arsenal or what concessions the US might offer in exchange. Teams from both countries had arrived earlier in Hanoi to negotiate an agreement for the two leaders to sign at the conclusion of their summit.

Potential outcomes could include agreements from North Korea to allow inspectors into certain nuclear sites or even a decision to close the expansive Yongbyon nuclear research center. At a minimum, US officials hope for a more defined road map that would lead North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

In exchange, Trump could offer to begin moving toward formal diplomatic relations through the exchange of liaison officers. Or he could agree to ending the Korean War, an attractive prospect for a President intent on winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

But expectations are low, and the US has appeared to abandon an earlier request that the second summit result in North Korea agreeing to provide a full accounting of its nuclear program. Inside the White House, some advisers have privately raised concerns that Trump could offer too much to Kim at the summit, which he insisted upon after his first meeting in June garnered widespread media attention.

The meetings come as Trump faces headwinds of scandal back home. His former personal attorney Michael Cohen spent Tuesday testifying behind closed doors on Capitol Hill ahead of a public session on Wednesday. He is expected to discuss publicly for the first time Trump’s role in some of the crimes his former lawyer pleaded guilty to last year, a source familiar with Cohen’s preparations for his testimony told CNN.

That will proceed overnight in Vietnam, though White House officials said there was little they could do to prevent the President from remaining awake in the wee hours to watch. Aides were also planning to take notes on the testimony to brief him.

The President has expressed regret previously that the various investigations have undermined him on the world stage. He’ll be particularly sensitive to appear undercut around Kim, with whom he’s cultivated a close friendship over the course of the past year.

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