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North Korea's Kim enjoys Singapore sites on eve of historic summit with Trump

Reuters  |  SINGAPORE 

By and Steve Holland

(Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who rarely ventures outside his isolated country, visited tourist sites on Singapore's waterfront on Monday, hours before a historic summit with U.S.

Trump said earlier the Tuesday summit with Kim on a resort island could "work out very nicely" as officials from both countries sought to narrow differences on how to end a nuclear stand-off on the

But U.S. injected a note of caution ahead of the first-ever meeting of U.S. and North Korean leaders on Tuesday, saying that it remained to be seen whether Kim was sincere about his willingness to denuclearise.

Kim is not believed to have left his hotel since a meeting with Singapore's prime minister, Loong, soon after his arrival on Sunday in the city-state, but ventured out on Tuesday evening, smiling as he walked through the lobby to his limousine.

The Swiss-educated leader, who is believed to be 34, has not left his country since taking office in 2011 other than to visit and the South Korean side of the border Demilitarised Zone, which separates the two Koreas.

On Monday evening, Kim's first stop was a waterfront park with futuristic installations, Gardens by the Bay, which boasts the largest glass greenhouse and tallest indoor waterfall in the world.

Police and onlookers were also seen gathering outside the hotel, which resembles a giant surfboard perched on three columns at the mouth of the River.

LAST MINUTE TALKS

Earlier, officials from the two sides held last-minute talks aimed at laying the groundwork for the summit between Trump and Kim, a meeting almost unthinkable just months ago when the two were exchanging insults and threats that raised fears of war.

But after a flurry of diplomatic overtures eased tension in recent months, the two leaders are now headed for a history-making handshake that U.S. officials hope could eventually lead to dismantling of a North Korean nuclear programme that threatens the

Offering a preview to reporters on the eve of the summit, Pompeo said it could provide "an unprecedented opportunity to change the trajectory of our relationship and bring peace and prosperity" to

However, he played down the possibility of a quick breakthrough and said the summit should set the framework for "the hard work that will follow", insisting that had to move toward complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.

Pyongyang, though, has shown little appetite for surrendering nuclear weapons it considers vital to the survival of Kim's dynastic rule.

Sanctions on would remain in place until that had happened, Pompeo said. "If diplomacy does not move in the right direction ... those measures will increase."

"North Korea has previously confirmed to us its willingness to denuclearise and we are eager to see if those words prove sincere," he said.

The later said discussions with North Korea had moved "more quickly than expected" and Trump would leave Singapore on Tuesday night, after the summit. He had earlier been scheduled to leave on Wednesday.

Kim is due to leave on Tuesday afternoon, a source involved in the planning of his visit to Singapore, said on Sunday.

Trump arrived in Singapore on Sunday after a blow-up over trade with other members of the major industrialised nations in

The escalating economic clash between and some of its closest global partners cast a cloud over Trump's efforts to score a major foreign policy win in nuclear talks with North Korea, long one of America's bitterest foes.

Although gaps remain over what denuclearisation would entail, Trump sounded a positive note in a lunch meeting with Singapore's Loong.

"We've got a very interesting meeting ... tomorrow, and I just think it's going to work out very nicely," Trump said.

It was a far cry from last year when Trump threatened North Korea with "fire and fury" and mocked Kim as "little rocket man," and Kim denounced the U.S. as the "mentally deranged U.S. dotard."

'NEW ERA'

Trump and Kim are staying in separate in the famous Orchard Road area of Singapore, dotted with high-rise luxury apartment blocks, offices and glittering shopping malls. Traffic was held up in the steamy midday sun and scores of bystanders were penned in by police when Trump went to meet Lee.

Similar scenes were seen on Sunday when Kim and Trump arrived in the city, and when Kim went to meet Lee. Their hotels, less than a kilometre (mile) apart, are cordoned off with heavy security.

Commenting for the first time on the summit, North Korea's state-run agency said the two sides would exchange "wide-ranging and profound views" to re-set relations. It heralded the summit as part of a "changed era".

Discussions would focus on "the issue of building a permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean peninsula, the issue of realising the denuclearisation of the and other issues of mutual concern", said.

In the lead up to the summit, North Korea rejected any unilateral nuclear disarmament, and KCNA's reference to denuclearisation of the peninsula has historically meant that wants the to remove its "nuclear umbrella" protecting and

Many experts on North Korea, one of the most insular and unpredictable countries in the world, remain sceptical Kim will ever completely abandon nuclear weapons. They believe Kim's engagement is aimed at getting the to ease the crippling sanctions that have squeezed the impoverished country.

Kelsey Davenport, at the Arms Control Association, said there were signs that the gaps between the two sides were narrowing.

"Trump is likely to declare the summit a victory irrespective of the outcome, but if the two sides fail to reach a common understanding of denuclearisation it will put at risk any process that the summit kicks off," he said.

"The process could be doomed before it begins."

A official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. side was entering the talks with a sense of optimism and an equal dose of scepticism given North Korea's long history of developing nuclear weapons.

"We will not be surprised by any scenario," said the

The said Trump and Kim would hold a one-on-one meeting on Tuesday that could last up to two hours. He described it as a "get to know you plus" meeting.

Later, they would be joined by their respective negotiating teams for discussions that could last another hour.

The summit's venue is the on Sentosa, a resort island off with luxury hotels, a theme park and man-made beaches.

Trump initially touted the potential for a grand bargain with North Korea to rid itself of a nuclear missile programme that has advanced rapidly to threaten the United States.

But he has since lowered expectations, backing away from an original demand for North Korea's swift denuclearisation.

He has said the talks would be more about starting a relationship with Kim for a negotiating process that would take more than one summit.

($1 = 1.3336 Singapore dollars)

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Soyoung Kim, Dewey Sim, Aradhana Aravindan, Himani Sarkar, Kim Coghill, Robert Birsel, Miral Fahmy, Joyce Lee, Grace Lee, Matt Spetalnick, David Brunnstrom; Christine Kim in SEOUL; Writing by Matt Spetalnick; and Editing by and Neil Fullick)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, June 11 2018. 19:25 IST
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