N.Korea’s Kim to travel to Vietnam by train, summit at Government Guesthouse

Sources say Kim Jong Un, above, and Trump will meet in the Government Guesthouse in Hanoi. (AFP)
Updated 20 February 2019

N.Korea’s Kim to travel to Vietnam by train, summit at Government Guesthouse

  • The trip would take Kim Jong Un at least two and a half days
  • The two leaders will discuss the denuclearization of Korea

HANOI: Vietnam is preparing for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to arrive by train for his summit in Hanoi next week with US President Donald Trump, two sources with direct knowledge of security and logistics planning told Reuters on Wednesday.

It could take Kim at least two and a half days to travel the thousands of kilometers through China by train, from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang to Vietnam, meaning he would have to set off later this week in time for his planned Feb. 25 arrival.

Kim’s train will stop at the Vietnamese border station of Dong Dang, where he will disembark and drive 170 km to Hanoi by car, the sources said.

Trump and Kim will meet in the Vietnamese capital on Feb. 27-28, eight months after a historic summit in Singapore in June — the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader — at which they pledged to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Negotiations have made little headway since then and there is growing expectation that this time they need to reach a more specific agreement.

Kim Jong Un’s newly appointed nuclear negotiator, Kim Hyok Chol, arrived in Hanoi on Wednesday, a Reuters witness and a source with direct knowledge said.

Separately, three other sources with direct knowledge of the summit preparations told Reuters the preferred location for the meeting between the leaders is the Government Guesthouse, a colonial-era government building in central Hanoi.

All five sources who spoke to Reuters said the plans were subject to change. The sources were not authorized to speak to the media because of the sensitivities surround the secretive North Korean leader’s travel plans.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told the summit organizing committee on Tuesday that security during the summit was “top priority,” Vietnam’s government said on its website on Wednesday.

The Metropole Hotel, opposite the Government Guesthouse, will be a backup location for the summit, two of the sources said.

On Saturday, a Reuters witness saw Kim Jong Un’s close aide, Kim Chang Son, visiting the Government Guesthouse and the Metropole and Melia hotels in the center of the capital.

Kim could possibly stay in the Melia hotel during his visit, one of the sources said.

Asked whether Kim would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on his way through the country, or for any other details of the trip, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was unaware of the situation.

“China and North Korea have a tradition of high-level mutual visits. As for the situation you mentioned, I have no grasp of it,” Geng told a daily news briefing. He did not elaborate.

Like father, like son

Travel by train has been a favorite mode of transport for Kim Jong Un, and his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung.

North Korea experts have remarked on how Kim Jong Un’s overseas visits, such as his state visit to China in January, are reminiscent of Kim Il Sung.

“(His father) Kim Jong Il was very reclusive. He didn’t like meeting foreign delegations, and he didn’t really enjoy going to foreign countries,” said Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to Britain, who defected to South Korea in 2016, told media on Tuesday.

“But Kim Jong Un is a bit like Kim Il Sung. He really likes overseas activity,” said Thae.

Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, visited Vietnam twice, in 1958 and 1964.

In 1958, Kim Il Sung went from Pyongyang to Beijing by plane, then from Beijing to Guangzhou by train, then he appears to have crossed the border from China to Hanoi by plane, South Korean newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun reported on Tuesday citing archived Chinese media reports.

In 1964, Kim Il Sung visited Vietnam using a Vickers Viscount aircraft provided by China that was the personal plane of Mao Zedong’s second-in-command Lin Biao, Kyunghyang reported.


Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

Updated 21 min 41 sec ago

Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

  • Afghan government excluded from all rounds of talks
  • Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1

KABUL: Afghanistan said on Saturday it expects the US to share details of a peace deal with the Taliban before it is signed, having been excluded from all rounds of talks.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has led diplomats through at least nine rounds of talks with members of the armed group in Qatar since last summer.

A deal could pave the way for a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and end almost two decades of fighting in the country.

But President Ashraf Ghani’s government has been left out of the talks because of objections from the Taliban, which views his regime as a puppet of the West.

The current round of discussions has been described as crucial because, according to present and former Taliban officials, both parties are expected to soon sign a deal.

“The Afghan government expects that it (agreement) will be shared before it is finalized for signing,” Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, told Arab News.

He said Kabul could not say when the deal would be signed, and that troops’ departure would be condition-based and not based on a timeline set by the Taliban.

“Well, force reduction will be based on conditions, the terrorist threat is potential and we must fight it together for our common safety and in order to prevent any major terrorist attacks on the world’s capitals. 

“We must deny terrorists from holding free ground in Afghanistan and turning it into a safe haven. The presence of some forces, and continued and meaningful support to the Afghan security and defense forces, will be key to our success.”

The Taliban wants all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan within a set timetable and, in return, the group says it will not allow Afghan soil to be used against any foreign country or US interests.

Afghan and US officials have warned against a total pullout of troops because, they argue, the Taliban will try to regain power by force and the country will slide back into chaos after troops leave.

But some say a continued presence will prolong the conflict, as neighboring powers oppose the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and see it as a trigger for extremism.

The Taliban could not be reached immediately for comment about media reports, which cited the group’s former and current officials as saying that a deal with Washington was imminent.

“We have an agreement on a timeframe for the withdrawal,” Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s spokesman for the Qatar talks, told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. “Discussions are now focused on its implementation mechanism. We have had general discussions today,” he added, referring to current discussions in Doha. “Tomorrow, we shall have discussions on the implementation part.”

Another Taliban spokesman said the top US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, had taken part in the current talks which, according to some observers, showed the importance of the discussions and the possibility of a final deal.

Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1, weeks ahead of a crucial and controversial presidential poll in Afghanistan. 

Ghani, who is standing for re-election, says the polls are his priority. Some politicians believe that peace will have to come first and that the vote will have to be delayed.

Abdul Satar Saadat, who served as an adviser to Ghani, said the Taliban and US were racing against time as any delay would damage trust between the two and prompt the Taliban to fight for another five years.

“Because of this both sides are doing their utmost to sign the deal, delay the polls and begin an intra-Afghan dialogue like Oslo,” he told Arab News.