Kim Jong Un arrived in Hanoi to throngs of cheering, flag-waving crowds Tuesday, on the eve of a second summit with Donald Trump the world is closely watching for tangible progress over North Korea’s nuclear programme.
After a historic initial meeting in Singapore in June that produced only a vague statement about denuclearisation, analysts say the second date must deliver more concrete steps towards dismantling Pyongyang’s arsenal.
The normally sleepy Vietnamese border station of Dong Dang spruced itself up for Kim’s arrival after the young leader’s 4,000-kilometre (2,500-mile), two-and-a-half-day odyssey through China aboard his olive green train.
A military guard of honour in pristine white uniforms presented arms as Kim strolled down the red carpet waving and grinning, surrounded by a phalanx of aides and security personnel.
Local official Hoang Thi Thuy said she had waited in the cold rain since before dawn for a glimpse of Kim, the first North Korean leader to visit fellow one-party state Vietnam since his grandfather Kim Il Sung in 1964.
“I was so excited when we were told to stand in place for the arrival of the train,” she told AFP. “We saw the leader from afar. I felt so happy, it’s hard to describe.”
Wearing his trademark Mao-style black suit and flanked by his troops of bodyguards, Kim was ushered into a waiting Mercedes-Benz and his motorcade rolled off towards Hanoi, where armoured personnel carriers patrolled the roads amid ultra-tight security.
He was greeted in Hanoi by cheering crowds behind barriers near the colonial-era pastel yellow Hanoi Opera House before arriving at the Melia hotel where he was expected to stay this week.
Trump was taking a more conventional route on Air Force One to the meeting and was expected to arrive in Hanoi late Tuesday. He tweeted he was looking forward to a “very productive” second summit.
The US president again dangled the carrot of economic progress for North Korea if it gives up its nuclear programme.
“With complete Denuclearisation, North Korea will rapidly become an Economic Powerhouse,” tweeted Trump. “Without it, just more of the same.”
“Chairman Kim will make a wise decision!”
Relations between the two mercurial leaders have undergone a dramatic turnaround, from flinging personal insults and threats of destruction to Trump declaring he had fallen “in love” with Kim through an exchange of letters.
But many North Korea watchers dismissed the Singapore summit as a piece of political theatre that failed to produce a concrete roadmap to denuclearisation and stressed that the Hanoi meeting must deliver more.
“The window for diplomatic progress with North Korea will not remain open indefinitely. The second summit… must emphasise substance over pageantry,” said Kelsey Davenport from the Arms Control Association.
Concrete details about the summit have been few and far between but White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One the two leaders would dine together Wednesday with close advisors.
Diplomatic progress since Singapore has stalled over the definition of denuclearisation, with Stephen Biegun, the US special representative for North Korea, admitting there was no “shared agreement” of what that means.