The US has some “some hard work” to do with North Korea before President Donald Trump meets Kim Jong un in Vietnam later this month, according to its special envoy Stephen Biegun.
Trump is “very much looking forward to taking the next steps,” according to a pool transcript of Biegun’s remarks on Saturday. The envoy on North Korea spent three days negotiating with officials in Pyongyang before meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in Seoul.
“I’m confident that if both sides stay committed we can make real progress here,” Biegun said. “We don’t know where it’s going to go but we are in the midst of a conversation with the North and our discussions were productive.”
Biegun didn’t say exactly what steps were left to take with North Korea. The State Department earlier said Biegun and his North Korean counterpart agreed to meet again in advance of the Trump-Kim summit.
Trump tweeted shortly before Biegun met with Kang that he would hold his second summit with the North Korean leader in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi on February 27 and 28.
An administration official said that Kim preferred Hanoi over Danang, another Vietnamese city that was considered for the summit. The official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the preparations for the meeting, said Vietnamese officials considered their capital a more prestigious setting, and that Trump did not particularly care either way.
In a second tweet, Trump praised Kim as a leader who would turn North Korea into a “great Economic Powerhouse.” North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency separately said earlier on Saturday that Kim visited the defense ministry on Friday to commemorate the founding of the Korean People’s Army and called on the military to play a substantial role in developing the economy.
Although the North Korean economy is believed to have improved in recent years, it has been hurt by sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons program and the country remains one of the poorest. The nation of 25 million people offers a labor force that remains largely untapped and holds minerals and rare earths that China has had a near monopoly on.
Trump will face pressure to achieve more during the next meeting with the North Korean leader, after the first summit did not yield commitments from Kim to allow weapons inspections or dismantle its growing arsenal of warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In recent months, North Korea has said it would consider a step-by-step approach, pairing actions to denuclearise with incentives, including the removal of economic sanctions crippling its economy. In a New Year’s address, Kim threatened a “new path” if the US didn’t ease “vicious” sanctions.
Vietnam was considered a favorable location for the summit because Kim could travel to the country with a flight largely over friendly Chinese territory. Representatives of Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Trump’s announcement.