US Politics

Trump announces historic summit with Kim to be held in Singapore

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US President Donald Trump has tweeted he and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will meet in Singapore on June 12, saying it will be his "proudest achievement".

US President Donald Trump says he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on June 12 in Singapore for the first-ever summit between the leaders of the two countries.

"The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong-un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!" Mr Trump said on Twitter on Thursday.

Trump & Kim
AAP

The location and date of the landmark meeting were announced in a presidential tweet just hours after Trump welcomed to the United States three American prisoners released by Pyongyang.

"We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!" Trump wrote.

The two leaders are expected to discuss North Korea's nuclear weapons development and testing program, which has deepened long-seated tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

"I think it will be a big success," Trump said as he boarded Air Force One, on his way to a political rally in Indiana.

Mr Trump's announcement came just hours after three Americans who had been held prisoner in North Korea arrived at a US military base outside Washington, having been released by Kim.

Mr Trump said on their arrival that he believed Kim wanted to bring North Korea "into the real world" and had high hopes for their planned meeting, which would be the first between a serving US president and a North Korean leader.

"I think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful," Mr Trump said.

"My proudest achievement will be - this is part of it - when we denuclearise that entire peninsula."

US officials said the release of Americans Kim Hak-song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-chul removed a major obstacle to the summit, providing Trump with some tangible evidence that his twin-track policy of engagement and "maximum pressure" was working.

"We're not under any illusions about who these people are. We know who we are dealing with here," said Victoria Coates, of the National Security Council.

"But we got, up front, our people home."

Neutral Singapore to act as bridge

Technically the United States and North Korea are still at war - a stop-gap armistice ended the brutal three-year war between the two countries in 1953 and around 30,000 US troops remain in neighbouring South Korea.

Neutral Singapore has long acted as a bridge between the United States and China, with successive prime ministers offering Oval Office occupants cherished geopolitical counsel.

When Mr Trump and Mr Kim sit down in the sweltering Southeast Asian city state, the two relatively new and untested leaders face a nuclear puzzle that has eluded seasoned diplomats for decades.

A series of US administrations have sent envoys, both official and unofficial, to Pyongyang in the hope of stopping North Korea's provocative nuclear weapons program.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter visited after leaving office, non-proliferation talks have repeatedly taken place and a deal was even signed in 1994. 

But despite the optimism of that moment, all efforts to limit North Korea's nuclear program have, to date, failed. And more than two decades and multiple provocative weapons tests after the last accord, the threat from North Korea has only grown.

The country is now believed to be on the cusp of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental United States.

Mr Trump has vowed that he will not let that happen and has demanded that North Korea give up its nukes.

'Cautious optimism'

So far the North Korean regime has made vague pledges to "denuclearise" but not said spelled out what that means, when it would happen or how it would be implemented.

In North Korea's bombastic rhetoric, "denuclearisation" has, for years, been a by-word for US troop withdrawals from South Korea and an excuse for stalling.

The regime's hardliners are believed to see possession of nuclear weapons as the only guarantee against US-led efforts to topple the regime.

But Mr Trump's high profile meeting offers a glimmer of hope of a breakthrough, according to Republican Senator Cory Gardner, who discussed preparations for the summit with Mr Trump at the White House on Wednesday.

"This is a moment for cautious optimism," he told AFP. "The president understands that there is a historic opportunity to achieve what the world has been unable to achieve for decades."

At the same time Gardner said, Mr Trump's eyes were wide open about the risks of failure and the need to be clear that denuclearization means abandoning nuclear weapons. 

"As of last night there was no nuance in terms of denuclearization," he said.

But before any technical talk about reprocessed fuel rods, separated plutonium or spent fuel removal, Mr Trump will want to answer one basic question -- whether North Korea wants to change.

"This is the key test," said Gardner. "I think that if Kim Jong Un wants to find relief from 'maximum pressure' and be welcomed back to the table of recognized global leadership, it's the only path he has."

Since the foundation of North Korea in 1948 the country has endured war and struggled to balance Soviet and Chinese rivalries.

Decades of financial stagnation, international sanctions, mass starvation and industrial scale human rights abuses followed.

"The road we have been down is well travelled and it's never ended well. So I hope this time is different," said Gardner.

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