By Will Ripley, International Correspondent, CNN
As Air Force One was readied to wing Donald Trump over to Vietnam, and Kim Jong Un’s luxurious armored train wound its way across from Pyongyang, the focus of attention here in Hanoi was on the hotel where it was thought Kim Jong Un would be staying.
Even just hours ahead of this historic second meeting of these most unique world leaders, Kim’s accommodation was still a closely guarded secret. But when his security detail turned up in force to inspect the exclusive Melia Hotel and was followed by a squad from the Vietnamese army to perform a security sweep, the cat appeared to emerge from the bag. Then, when guests had notes slipped under their doors to let them know that a ‘world leader’ would be joining them, all bets looked to be off. As night fell, a line of reporters began to assemble outside the hotel, hoping to get a first look at Kim Jong Un’s motorcade arriving.
While accommodation appears to be settled, how success will be defined in this second meeting, however, remains less clear. There seems to be some difference of opinion between President Trump and his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on this issue. After Trump pronounced that there was ‘no nuclear threat’ from North Korea, Pompeo instead told my colleague Jake Tapper that the risk of nuclear conflict had only been ‘substantially taken down’.
The evidence is scant for both interpretations. Working towards the ‘complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula’ remains the ultimate goal from last June’s Singapore summit, but North Korea probably has more fuel to make nuclear weapons than it did at the start of this process and retains its full arsenal. Kim is making his way to Hanoi while basking in all the legitimacy this second summit provides, without having had to make a single meaningful concession.
What the United States wants here is something more tangible: a commitment from North Korea to take real steps to reduce its nuclear capabilities, and a chance for Donald Trump to gain domestic vindication for his controversial approach to the rogue state. Kim Jong Un wants something even less abstract: economic relief from painful sanctions and normalized relations with what remains the world’s most powerful economic and military power.
There could scarcely be greater inspiration for Kim than the venue for this meeting. Hanoi rose from the ashes after a bitter and debilitating conflict with the United States. Now Vietnam is an emerging economic powerhouse in Asia, enjoying 7 percent growth last year and attracting investment from all over the world. The incentives for progress are here for all to see.