HANOI — President Trump offered a public embrace of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday as they opened a two-day nuclear summit here, referring to the brutal authoritarian ruler as ‘‘my friend’’ and stating that he is ‘‘satisfied’’ with the progress of their negotiations.
‘‘Some people would like to see it be quicker. I’m satisfied; you’re satisfied,’’ Trump told Kim before a private, one-on-one meeting, followed by a social dinner with a small group of aides at the luxurious Metropole hotel. ‘‘We want to be happy with what we’re doing.’’
Trump said he believed their first summit in Singapore was a success and added that their meetings in Hanoi ‘‘will be equal to or greater than the first.’’ He held up Vietnam as a model for economic growth for North Korea, which he said has ‘‘unlimited’’ potential.
‘‘I look forward to watching it happen, and we will help it happen,’’ Trump said, sitting next to Kim in front of a row of American and North Korean flags. The president wore a dark suit and striped tie, while Kim wore his traditional Mao-style suit. The North Korean leader smiled as Trump spoke.
Trump’s warm greeting of Kim suggested that the president was hopeful that their personal rapport can help bridge gaps in the negotiations among lower-level aides ahead of the summit. Trump said the biggest area of progress since Singapore was their ‘‘relationship,’’ and in a tweet after the dinner he said the two had ‘‘very good dialogue.’’
The dinner of grilled sirloin and chocolate lava cake was an attempt to continue to foster trust ahead of a series of meetings Thursday during which the two sides will attempt to lock down the terms of an agreement. US negotiators are seeking detailed commitments from Pyongyang to dismantle at least some of its nuclear weapons facilities, while Kim’s regime wants relief from punishing economic sanctions and a declaration to formally end the Korean War.
At the dinner, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney joined Trump and Kim, along with two senior North Korean aides, Kim Yong Chol and Ri Yong Ho, and two interpreters.
‘‘Disbelief and misunderstandings were everywhere, and old hostile habits were getting in our way, but we’ve overcome it well, come face to face and walked all the way to Hanoi in 260 days,’’ Kim Jong Un said in the photo op with Trump. ‘‘I think it’s been a time period that took me more agony, effort, and patience than ever. I am confident a great result will be produced this time to be welcomed by everyone, and I will do my best toward that goal.’’
White House aides have said the president is determined to sell Kim on a vision of modernization and present him with a choice between continued global isolation or burgeoning economic growth if he gives up the North’s nuclear weapons program.
Ahead of meetings with Vietnamese officials earlier Wednesday, Trump praised Vietnam on Twitter as ‘‘thriving like few places on earth’’ and said North Korea has a chance to do the same ‘‘very quickly.’’
‘‘The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un,’’ Trump wrote. ‘‘We will know fairly soon — Very Interesting!’’
In brief remarks with Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong, Trump said he marveled at the construction projects his motorcade passed during his drive into Hanoi from the airport late Tuesday.
‘‘Vietnam is thriving,’’ said Trump, who signed a bilateral trade deal with Hanoi to purchase US-made plane engines and other equipment. Referring to Kim, Trump added: ‘‘We both felt very good about having this very important summit in Vietnam because you really are an example of what can happen with good thinking.’’
Yet Trump at times appeared distracted. Retiring to his hotel for several hours of downtime before his dinner with Kim, Trump unleashed a Twitter broadside on Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, mocking him as he has before over questionable statements that Blumenthal has made about his military service.
‘‘I have now spent more time in Vietnam than Da Nang Dick Blumenthal, the third rate Senate from Connecticut (how is Connecticut doing?),’’ Trump wrote. ‘‘His war stories of his heroism in Vietnam were a total fraud — he was never even there. We talked about it today with Vietnamese leaders!’’
A readout from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders of Trump’s meetings with the Vietnamese made no mention of them discussing Blumenthal. And Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, told Congress on Wednesday that Trump claimed to have a bone spur that won him a deferment from military service draft during the Vietnam War but that Trump provided no evidence of having had a medical problem and privately told him he never had surgery. Trump used another tweet Wednesday afternoon to charge that Cohen is lying.
Trump made his economic pitch to Kim during their first summit in Singapore last summer, showing him a four-minute video produced by the White House that interspersed images with war and destruction with gleaming hyper-modern cityscapes. Kim, in his mid-30s, has said in public addresses that he is focused on improving the North Korean economy, which has suffered under decades of international economic sanctions for the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs — and the regime’s corrupt governance.
Analysts have said Trump’s strategy is risky, given that US intelligence officials contend Kim is unlikely to surrender an arsenal that is thought to include an estimated 65 nuclear warheads. Although Trump has pointed to a moratorium on testing that has been in place since November 2017, US intelligence has discovered evidence that the North has sought to conceal its weapons programs despite publicly engaging with the United States and South Korea in denuclearization talks.