EU President Donald Tusk will meet British Prime Minister Theresa May Thursday for “last-minute talks” to try to help save her beleaguered Brexit deal ahead of a crucial European summit.
“Ahead of #EUCO I will meet PM @theresa_may for last-minute talks,” Tusk tweeted.
May comes to the EU summit in Brussels after postponing an attempt to ratify the Brexit treaty, only to have to face down a bid from fellow Conservative MPs to unseat her.
The other 27 EU countries have drawn up a six-paragraph statement designed to appease concerns about the “Irish backstop” in the Brexit withdrawal and ease the deal’s passage through the British parliament.
According to European diplomats, the leaders will not allow the backstop nor the deal itself — which was only agreed at the end of last month — to be renegotiated at this stage.
But the statement, which could be issued at the summit, would declare that any backstop “would only be in place for a short period and only as long as strictly necessary.”
And it will add: “The union stands ready to examine whether any further assurances can be provided. Such assurances will not change or contradict the withdrawal agreement”.
This would not be the legally binding promise that British eurosceptics are seeking that the measure to keep the Irish border open would not be used to bind the UK into a customs union indefinitely.
“This is incredibly innocent language. Nothing of this is new. There is no end date for the backstop,” one European source told AFP.
“Not even the wording is different. There is the word temporary, but this is already in the withdrawal agreement,” he noted.
But the diplomat said that, in the likely event that the statement will not assuage the concerns of May’s parliamentary opponents, then a legal “interpretation” of the deal could be produced.
This would only be published in January, he said, as if it were released too soon, the Brexiteers might immediately seek more concessions, pushing approval of the plan still further back.
The European Union is ready to extend the post-divorce transition period with Britain, diplomats said, amid efforts to revive chances to strike a Brexit deal at a key summit on Wednesday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is due in Brussels later in the day to speak to the other 27 EU leaders on the stalled negotiations for Britain’s scheduled exit from the union on March 29.
Talks are at an impasse over the issue of a legal backstop to keep the border between British Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic open after the United Kingdom leaves the bloc.
But EU negotiator Michel Barnier has an idea to help break the logjam, two EU diplomats told AFP and Ireland’s top diplomat told the BBC.
Barnier is willing to add a year to the 21-month post Brexit transition period — taking it to the end of 2021, the two diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
“The aim is to gain more time to negotiate the agreement on the future (trade) relationship and thus further reduce the probability of having to resort to the backstop,” one of the diplomats said.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Barnier proposed an extension but did not say for how long.
“What Michel Barnier has indicated very clearly is that the EU side is, certainly, willing to allow more time in the transition period to agree on an alternative solution to a backstop,” Coveney told the BBC.
This offer would not in itself resolve the backstop issue which must be included in the withdrawal treaty and ratified before the end of March to avoid a damaging “no deal” scenario.
But it would avoid the need for separate plans for British-ruled Northern Ireland, which London staunchly opposes on grounds of sovereignty.
The diplomats said Barnier had revealed his offer to EU ministers at a meeting this week in Luxembourg.
It comes as European Council President Donald Tusk, the summit host, said he would ask May to offer new “concrete ideas on how to break the impasse” when she arrives in Brussels
But Tusk said he had “no grounds for optimism” based on a report Tuesday from Barnier and May’s appearance in parliament on Monday where she stood her ground.
The choreography of Wednesday’s summit opening highlights British isolation.
May will meet one-on-one with Tusk at 5:45 pm (1545 GMT) before briefing her 27 European colleagues, but then the rest of the EU leaders will leave to discuss Brexit over dinner without her.
Tusk has made it clear that if May and Barnier do not signal concrete progress towards a draft deal he will not call a November summit to sign it.
Instead, the matter could either be pushed back to December or — more dramatically — the EU could use the November weekend to meet on preparations for a “no-deal” Brexit.
Previously, both sides had agreed that Britain crashing out of the Union on March 29 next year with neither a divorce agreement nor a road-map to future ties would be an economic and diplomatic disaster.
“There are still several weeks of space left, according to what the British are telling us, and they are the ones with calendar problems,” said a senior EU diplomat.
But with the row over the Irish border, fears of a debacle are mounting.
At a three-hour British cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, which included ministers with reservations about her strategy, May said a deal was possible if they all stood together.
No deal plans
Addressing MPs in the House of Commons on Monday, May had said a deal was “achievable” while sticking to her principles on the Irish border issue.
But a senior European official said the speech had only underscored for Barnier the uphill struggle he faces to get an agreement.
To solve the Irish question, Britain has proposed staying aligned to the EU’s customs rules until a wider trade deal can be signed that avoids the need for any frontier checks.
But her own eurosceptic Conservative MPs are demanding this “backstop” arrangement be time-limited, something the EU will not accept.
May said the EU was also insisting on its own “backstop” in case the London proposal did not work, which would see Northern Ireland alone stay aligned to the customs union and single market.
She says this would threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom — and it is strongly opposed by her Northern Irish allies from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Economists fear “no deal” Brexit would greatly disrupt trade, travel and manufacturers’ supply chains in Europe, push Britain into recession and even have global consequences.
Europe’s biggest auto firms on Wednesday warned that a no-deal Brexit would “threaten their very business model” by disrupting component distribution.
Denuclearisation will be high on the agenda for this week’s inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday on the eve of his third meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Moon will fly to the North Korean capital on Tuesday for the latest stage in a diplomatic thaw on the peninsula, although progress has stalled in denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington.
“I’ve confirmed the sincere willingness of both Chairman Kim Jong Un and President Trump on several occasions,” Moon said during a Cabinet meeting.
“I plan to hold frank talks with Chairman Kim Jong Un on ways to find a point of compromise between the US demand for denuclearization and the North’s demand for ending hostile relations,” he added.
Moon, who met Kim in April and May this year, was instrumental in brokering the historic Singapore summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim in June when Kim backed denuclearisation of the “Korean peninsula”.
But no details were agreed and Washington and Pyongyang have sparred since over what that means and how it will be achieved.
The US is pressing for the North’s “final, fully verified denuclearisation”, while Pyongyang is seeking a formal declaration that the 1950-53 Korean War is over — hostilities ceased with an armistice rather than a peace treaty. It has condemned demands for it to give up its weapons unilaterally as “gangster-like”.
The dovish South Korean leader — who has gladly taken on the role of a mediator — will try to close the gap between the US and the North, according to Moon’s chief of staff Im Jong-seok.
“Through various meetings and phone calls, President Moon has a better understanding of what the US is thinking than Chairman Kim,” Im told reporters.
Moon is due to fly to New York later this month to attend the UN General Assembly, where he is expected to meet Trump.
Moon will hold at least two formal meetings with Kim, who may make a rare appearance at the airport to welcome his guests, the chief of staff said.
The South’s president is also scheduled to attend a concert and visit key sites in the North’s capital with his delegation, which includes tycoons Lee Jae-yong — the heir to the Samsung group — and the vice chairman of Hyundai Motor.
Moon has been pushing inter-Korean economic co-operation but several South Korean newspapers urged caution Monday, with the Korea Herald calling the businessmen’s presence on the trip “untimely”.
“It is better to postpone economic projects involving the North until after negotiations to remove its nuclear program make substantial progress,” it said in an editorial.
And investment in the North was “fraught with risks and uncertainty”, it added.
Other issues on Moon’s agenda will be improving inter-Korean ties and easing military tensions on the peninsula. Seoul said this could lay the groundwork for a declaration on the Korean War – implying that such an announcement was unlikely during the trip.
The two Koreas opened high-level talks Monday to prepare for a possible summit in Pyongyang between the South’s President Moon Jae-in and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un, as the diplomatic thaw on the peninsula builds.
The exact date and location of what would be their third meeting have yet to be decided, but at their historic first summit in Panmunjom in April they agreed Moon would visit Kim in the North Korean capital during the autumn.
Monday’s high-level talks, taking place on the northern side of the truce village in the Demilitarized Zone, were proposed by the North last week as it lashed out at Washington for pushing ahead with sanctions.
“As the Pyongyang meeting of the leaders of the north and south is being discussed, I think talking about the issue will provide answers to the wishes of the people,” the North’s chief delegate Ri Son Gwon said in his opening statement.
Using a proverb describing a very intimate friend to refer to inter-Korean ties, Ri added: “We have opened an era where we are advancing hand in hand rather than standing in each other’s way.”
Despite the rapprochement, international sanctions against the North for its nuclear and missile programmes have kept economic cooperation between the two Koreas from taking off, while little progress has been made on the key issue of Pyongyang’s denuclearisation.
South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, leading the delegation from Seoul, said it was important that the two Koreas keep “the same mind”.
“Many issues will be raised (at the meeting), but I think any problem can be resolved with that mindset,” Cho added.
The two Koreas have informally agreed the summit will take place in Pyongyang late this month or at the beginning of September, Yonhap News Agency reported Monday, without citing a source.
Cho addressed the possibility of Pyongyang raising the issue of sanctions to the South, and said: “We will explain our position to the North.”
The rapid rapprochement between the two neighbours that began this year paved the way for a landmark meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.
Cross-border exchanges between the two Koreas have significantly increased since then, with the neighbours planning to hold reunions for war-separated families next week for the first time in three years.
But although Trump touted his summit with Kim as a historic breakthrough, the nuclear-armed North has since criticised Washington for its “gangster-like” demands of complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament.
Meanwhile, the US has urged the international community to maintain tough sanctions on the isolated regime — Seoul has caught three South Korean firms importing coal and iron from the North last year in violation of the measures.
Analysts say Moon could try to act as a mediator between the US and North Korea, having salvaged the Singapore meeting when Trump abruptly cancelled it.
If the third Moon-Kim summit takes place, the two are also expected to focus on hammering out a consensus on officially ending the 1950-53 Korean War, which concluded with an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
Did Donald Trump make secret promises to Vladimir Putin? What did the American president tell his Russian counterpart at their Helsinki summit?
US senators, distressed by the Republican billionaire’s recent behaviour, will demand answers from his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday when he provides the most closely watched congressional testimony of his young tenure as the nation’s top diplomat.
Lawmakers have been eager for Pompeo to report back about a previous critical summit June 12 in Singapore between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Their demand became all the more urgent after Helsinki, in particular, the joint press conference during which Trump was seen by Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike as betraying American interests and being too conciliatory towards Putin.
“The Helsinki press conference was a sad day for our country, and everyone knows it,” Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an occasional Trump critic, told reporters Tuesday.
Russia will, therefore, be the primary focus of Pompeo’s 3:00 pm (1900 GMT) appearance before the committee.
But Corker made it clear his panel will also grill Pompeo about his recent trip to Pyongyang, Trump’s “undermining” of NATO and the alliance’s principle of mutual defence, and the president’s controversial tariffs which appear to be mushrooming into a trade war.
“I will testify about a lot of things including the relationship between the United States and Russia” and the “incredibly important” Trump-Putin summit, Pompeo said.
The closed-door meeting was panned by US lawmakers and observers, but Pompeo insisted it was “one I think the world will have benefited from when history is written.”
More Trump-Putin history may be made in the coming months. The White House has announced that Putin has been invited to Washington for another meeting later this year, even as Pompeo lamented that Congress was unimpressed with Trump’s unprecedented determination to push back against Russia’s “malign behaviour around the world.”
Congress has been rattled by Trump’s Helsinki performance, particularly when he appeared to accept Putin’s denials rather than US intelligence conclusions that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
The criticism was so swift that Trump subsequently said he misspoke and that he believed Russia had indeed interfered in the election.
Americans ‘deserve answers’
Congressional leaders in Trump’s Republican Party were quick to stress that the Russian strongman was not welcome in the US Capitol.
The political turmoil has only grown in the past week, with Trump launching bellicose tweets at Iran and doubling down on his tariff plans.
With Moscow stressing that “agreements” had been reached between the two leaders over the situation in Syria, the content of their two-hour conversation with no one else but their interpreters present has been the subject of conjecture.
“I gave up NOTHING,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The US State Department said three “modest proposals” have emerged from the summit: a high-level business leaders’ working group; a council of US and Russian political experts, diplomats and military officials; and discussions between the two presidents’ national security staffs.
The Democratic opposition has launched withering attacks on Trump, demanding additional transparency and going so far as to haul the president’s interpreter before Congress.
“The American people deserve answers about what they agreed to in private,” said Senator Robert Menendez, top Democrat on the committee, who is working on a bipartisan bill to strengthen sanctions on Russia.
Corker agreed, stressing he hoped Pompeo was “in the loop” and briefed on the details of the Helsinki tete-a-tete.
“I’d be disappointed to find out that he wasn’t,” Corker said.
US President Donald Trump, facing criticism that he failed to hold Russian leader Vladimir Putin to account at their Helsinki summit, claimed on Wednesday that no president has been as “tough” on Russia as he has.
“We’re doing very well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia,” Trump said at a cabinet meeting at the White House.
“Look at what we’ve done. Look at sanctions,” he said. “And I think President Putin knows that better than anybody. Certainly a lot better than the media.
“He understands it, and he’s not happy about it,” Trump said. “And he shouldn’t be happy about it because there’s never been a president as tough on Russia as I have been.”
President Donald Trump refused to confront Vladimir Putin over meddling in the US election on their first face to face summit, publicly challenging the findings of the US intelligence community and triggering bipartisan outrage at home.
The US and Russian presidents came out of their meeting in Helsinki Monday expressing a desire for a fresh start between the world’s leading nuclear powers and more talk on global challenges, after discussing an array of issues from Syria, Ukraine and China to trade tariffs and the size of their nuclear arsenals.
There were indications of an arrangement to work together and with Israel to support a ceasefire in southern Syria, suggesting that the US administration is backing off its demand that Moscow’s ally Bashar al-Assad step down.
If that is anathema to many in Washington, Trump‘s apparent concessions to Putin over the election controversy drew stinging condemnation from across the political divide.
Standing alongside the Kremlin boss at a joint news conference, Trump acknowledged that his intelligence chiefs believe Russia hacked and leaked Democrats’ emails containing politically damaging information about his rival Hillary Clinton in 2016.
But, insisting he had won the race fair and square, the wealthy property tycoon said: “I have President Putin, he just said it is not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Friday’s US indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence agents exploded with an embarrassing timing for Trump as he prepared to meet Putin. On Monday, officials said another Russian agent had been arrested for seeking to influence US politics.
But the US leader insisted that his counterpart had delivered a “powerful” denial of any Russian manipulation and that the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller was proving a “disaster” for the United States.
In his own interview with Fox, Trump said he was “fascinated” by an offer from Putin for US agents to indirectly grill the indicted Russians by submitting their questions to Russian officials but said Mueller’s team “probably won’t want to go” to Moscow.
Trump again denied any collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin, while Putin insisted: “The Russian state has never interfered and is not planning to interfere in the USA’s internal affairs.”
As criticism mounted, Trump tweeted from Air Force One on his way home from Finland that he had “GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people”.
“However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along.”
Angry criticism of the disavowal of his own intelligence agencies came even from within Trump‘s Republican Party.
Senior Republican Senator John McCain was particularly scathing, saying: “Coming close on the heels of President Trump‘s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American presidency.”
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats distanced himself from his boss, issuing a statement saying the US intelligence community’s judgment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election was “clear”.
But the top Democrat in the US Senate, Chuck Schumer, tweeted that many Americans can only wonder if “the only possible explanation for this dangerous behaviour is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.”
And former CIA director John Brennan said Trump‘s behavior at the news conference “rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous.”
Putin denied the notion that Russian spy bosses may hold compromising information on Trump, who in his previous business career oversaw the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.
“Please get this rubbish out of your heads,” the Russian leader said.
In a post-summit interview with Fox News, Putin said US-Russia relations should not be held “hostage” to “internal political games,” referring to the Mueller probe.
The two leaders appeared relaxed at the Helsinki news conference, smiling on occasion, in contrast to their sombre demeanour at the start of the day.
Trump, bent on forging a personal bond with the Kremlin chief despite the election allegations, went into the summit blaming the “stupidity” of his predecessors for plunging ties to their present low.
His manner towards Putin was also a contrast to the anger Trump flashed at NATO allies at a combative summit of the alliance in Brussels last week, which critics said would only hearten Putin.
‘Only the beginning’
A post-NATO trip to Britain, supposedly America’s partner in a “special relationship”, was riddled with controversy as well.
In Helsinki, however, Trump was determined to accentuate the positive, as was Putin.
The two leaders met one-on-one for more than two hours, with just their interpreters present, before they were joined by their national security teams.
Many in Washington were agog at Trump‘s decision to sit alone with Putin, worried about what he might give away to the former KGB spymaster, after previously cosying up to the autocratic leaders of China and North Korea.
But Trump convinced his unique brand of diplomacy can win over Putin, pressed ahead and looked forward to “having an extraordinary relationship” as the pair sat down to discuss global hotspots.
‘Foolishness and stupidity’
Trump began the day by firing a Twitter broadside at his domestic opponents, blaming the diplomatic chill on the election investigation.
“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted.
Russia’s foreign ministry tweeted in response: “We agree.”
In a weekend interview with CBS News, Trump admitted that Russia remains a foe, but he put Moscow on a par with China and the European Union as economic and diplomatic rivals.
Donald Trump returned late Monday from his European tour to face ire in Washington, where US intelligence officials and senior Republicans were denouncing the president as “shameful” and “disgraceful” after he refused to challenge Russian leader Vladimir Putin over interference in American elections.
Republican Senator John McCain said Trump‘s seeming acceptance of Putin’s denial was a historical “low point” for the US presidency and the Helsinki summit between the two leaders a “tragic mistake.”
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump‘s naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” McCain said in a blistering statement.
“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
Taking direct issue with the president who appointed him, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said US spy agencies have been “clear” and “fact-based” in their assessment that Moscow interfered in the presidential race two years ago — an assessment that Trump refused to endorse in Helsinki.
Coats added that Russia remains behind “ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”
Denial came after 12 Russians indicted
Trump stunned US political allies and foes alike with his answer to a question about Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 election which saw him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Putin “just said it is not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said.
That came three days after the US Justice Department indicted 12 Russians for hacking Democratic Party computers, the latest in a series of actions taken by the US government since late 2016 in retribution for what intelligence agencies say was a broad plan to support Trump‘s election campaign directed by Putin himself.
Yet Trump appeared to take Putin’s word in dismissing that conclusion.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
Trump also appeared to embrace Putin’s offer to have Russian investigators work together with US prosecutors on the case of the 12 just indicted.
“I think that’s an incredible offer.”
Astonished Republicans and Democrats uniformly condemned Trump, with harsh criticism coming even from hosts on Fox News — a network normally friendly to the president.
“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally,” said Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” he said.
Senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump‘s answer on meddling “will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness.”
Bent on forging a personal bond with the Kremlin chief, Trump headed into the summit blaming the “stupidity” of his predecessors for plunging ties to their present low.
“This is shameful,” said Senator Jeff Flake, a fellow Republican and staunch critic of the president.
“I never thought I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian president and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression.”
‘Green light to interfere’
The language used by Democrats was much harsher, including accusations of “treason.”
“For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak,” said Chuck Schumer, the senior Democrat in the Senate.
Democratic California Representative Jimmy Gomez charged: “To side with Putin over US intelligence is disgusting; to fail to defend the US is on the verge of treason.”
Congressman Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump had given Putin “a green light to interfere in 2018.”
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy was blunter: “This entire trip has just been one giant middle finger from President Trump to his own country. Just jaw dropping,” he wrote on Twitter.
Coats’ statement was seen as an uncommonly brusque pushback by the US intelligence community against the White House.
Retired spy chiefs were more direct, however.
Coat’s predecessor, James Clapper, called Trump‘s acquiescence to Putin “an incredible capitulation,” while former CIA chief John Brennan labelled it “nothing short of treasonous.”
Donald Trump has formed a “special bond” with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, he said Tuesday at the end of a historic meeting during which the two former foes pledged to meet again.
The pair signed what Trump called a “pretty comprehensive” and “very important” document, which spoke of “new US-DPRK relations” and committed Washington to “security guarantees”.
However, asked about denuclearisation — the crux of the summit, Trump said “we’re starting that process”, adding that it would begin “very, very quickly.”
For his part, Kim said the two Cold War foes had vowed to “leave the past behind”, pledging “the world will see a major change.”
The extraordinary summit — unthinkable only months ago — comes after the two nuclear-armed foes appeared on the verge of conflict late last year as they slung personal insults and Kim conducted nuclear and missile tests.
It was the first-ever meeting between sitting leaders of the two countries and was closely watched around the world.
“We’ll meet again,” Trump said after a signing ceremony, standing with Kim on the verandah where they first met. “We will meet many times.”
Trump said he “absolutely” would be willing to invite Kim — whose regime has been criticised for widespread human rights abuses — to the White House.
Earlier, the pair shared warm words and a historic handshake as they sought to confront a nuclear stand-off and enmity stretching back decades.
The two men shook hands for several seconds beneath the white-washed walls of an upscale hotel in neutral Singapore, Trump reaching out to touch the North Korean leader on his right shoulder.
As they sat down for their tete-a-tete, the US leader — who had said he would know “within the first minute” if a deal would be possible — predicted a “terrific relationship” with Kim.
In Seoul, South Korean President Moon Jae-in watched live on television, telling his ministers, he “could hardly sleep last night”.
After huddling for around 40 minutes, Trump and Kim were joined by senior advisors before breaking for lunch, where prawn cocktail, short-rib confit, soy-braised cod, and vanilla ice-cream were among the options.
The imagery for the high-stakes meeting was undoubtedly positive and Kim Yong-Hyun, a professor at Dongguk University in Seoul said: “The atmosphere of the summit looks very good.”
“It will be hard for this meeting to agree on specific deals but it carries considerable significance as a starting point,” he said.
‘Fire and Fury’
Some analysts have warned the summit could produce more style than substance and Kelly Magsamen, a former top Pentagon Asia specialist, said: “We’ll see if Kim actually gives him anything more than superficial pleasantries and some good TV.”
Critics said the mere fact of the meeting meant Trump was legitimising Kim, who critics say runs a police state where human rights are routinely trampled.
“It’s a huge win for Kim Jong-un, who now —- if nothing else -— has the prestige and propaganda coup of meeting one-on-one with the president, while armed with a nuclear deterrent,” said Michael Kovrig, Crisis Group Senior Adviser for North East Asia.
The warm words and positive optics seemed a different era from when Trump was threatening to rain down “fire and fury” on Pyongyang and Kim attacked Trump as a “mentally deranged US dotard”, as he fired off a series of provocative weapons tests.
The Singapore summit is a potentially legacy-defining meeting for both men — comparable to president Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China, or Ronald Reagan’s 1986 summit with Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik.
But many agreements have been made in the past with North Korea that have later fallen apart.
On the table is the vexed question of denuclearisation — a word that means vastly different things to the two parties.
It remains far from clear that Pyongyang is willing to give up its nukes -— weapons that the regime sees as its ultimate guarantee of survival.
And on the eve of the meeting, aides for both men were still scrambling to narrow yawning differences.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that the United States was willing to offer Pyongyang “unique” security guarantees if it denuclearises.
But the summit was more likely it is the start of a longer process of negotiation.
The discussions “will set the framework for the hard work that will follow”, Pompeo said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his commitment to “complete denuclearisation of Korean Peninsula”, in a joint agreement signed with President Donald Trump Tuesday.
The text made no mention of US demands for “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation” — jargon for scrapping weapons and committing to inspections — but did restate a vaguer commitment, AFP saw in a photo of the document.
As the world awaits the historic summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, one man who has risen to prominence for his impressions of the North Korean leader is preparing for his own appearance in Singapore.
The Hong Kong-based Kim impersonator, who goes by the name Howard X, will take part in an alternative summit on the sidelines of the meeting between the US president and Kim, scheduled for Tuesday.
In recent months Howard has worked the international circuit and appeared at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics alongside a Trump impersonator.
There he was hauled away by police after dancing and waving the unified Korean flag in front of North Korea’s female cheerleading team.
Howard says the duo have been hired by a Singapore hotel to give their own take on the landmark meeting.
Their aim is to encourage the public to discuss politics via satire, Howard told AFP in Hong Kong Thursday.
But he admits his family have reservations about his new career path.
“The first thing they said was ‘Don’t get killed”, Howard told AFP, adding his mother had taken out life insurance for him.
Born in Hong Kong, Howard grew up in Australia and previously worked as a musician.
But his impressions of Kim have become the main act since he began work as a lookalike in 2012.
To prepare for each performance, Howard, who says he is in his 30s, applies foundation and trims his eyebrows, but spends the most time perfecting Kim’s slicked-back hairstyle with copious amounts of spray.
Onstage he dresses in a black Mao-style suit with a North Korean flag pin and thick-rimmed glasses.
“You could say I’ve been blessed with this face,” he told AFP.
“Kim Jong Un is president for life, unlike an American president, or other prime ministers. Career-wise, I’ve got a very long and profitable one.”
Howard says he now makes a living out of being Kim through gigs, film and commercials and has also become an agent for other lookalikes in Asia.
But while his impressions pay the bills, he disagrees strongly with Kim’s authoritarian regime.
“It’s total control over the population, mind and body.”
North Korea said on Friday that it is willing to talk to the United States “at any time.”
This was after President Donald Trump abruptly cancelled a summit, prompting China to urge both sides to show restraint as a pall of uncertainty settled over the turbulent Korean peninsula once more.
Trump blamed “open hostility” from the North Korean regime for his decision to call off the planned talks with Kim Jong Un, and warned Pyongyang against committing any “foolish or reckless acts”.
In a personal letter to Kim, Trump announced Thursday he would not go ahead with the June 12 summit in Singapore, following what the White House called a “trail of broken promises” by the North.
China, Pyongyang’s sole major ally, urged the two foes to “show goodwill” as regional powers braced for the possible diplomatic fallout.
“Stay patient, show goodwill, move in the same direction and continue to stay committed to promoting the denuclearisation of the peninsula,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular press conference.
So far Pyongyang’s reaction to the sudden U-turn has been conciliatory.
First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan called Trump’s decision “unexpected” and “regrettable”. But he left the door open for talks, saying officials were willing “to sit face-to-face at any time”.
Just before Trump announced the cancellation of the meeting, North Korea declared it had “completely” dismantled its nuclear test site in the country’s far northeast, in a carefully choreographed goodwill gesture ahead of the summit.
But the chances of success for the unprecedented face-to-face had recently been thrown into doubt as threats were traded by both sides.
Trump’s announcement came a day after Pyongyang hardened its rhetoric, calling comments by Vice President Mike Pence “ignorant and stupid”.
“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” read Trump’s letter to Kim.
But he said talks could still go ahead “at a later date”.
The decision blindsided treaty ally South Korea, which until now had brokered a remarkable detente between Washington and Pyongyang.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in called the move “shocking and very regrettable” but his government vowed to push ahead with improving ties with the North.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the parties to keep talking, as did host Singapore, while Russia’s President Vladimir Putin held out hope that dialogue would resume and the talks would eventually take place.
However, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe backed the US president’s move.
“I respect President Trump’s decision and support it,” Abe told reporters during a trip to Russia.
Politically, Trump had invested heavily in the success of the planned summit. But as the date drew nearer, the gulf in expectations between the two sides became apparent.
Washington has made it clear it wants to see the “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation” of the North.
But Pyongyang has vowed it will never give up its nuclear deterrent until it feels safe from what it terms US aggression.
US aides stood up
A senior White House official said Pyongyang had demonstrated a “profound lack of good faith” in the run-up to the summit — including standing up the White House’s deputy chief of staff, who had travelled to Singapore for preparatory talks.
The White House viewed North Korea’s objection to the latest US-South Korean joint military exercise — and its recent cancellation of a meeting with the South Koreans — as a breach of its commitments leading up to the summit.
It also was unhappy about the North’s failure to allow international observers to verify the dismantling of its Punggye-ri test site, the staging ground for all six of its nuclear tests which was buried inside a mountain near the border with China.
But the North’s Kim Kye Gwan countered that their angry statements were “just a backlash in response to harsh words from the US side that has been pushing for a unilateral denuclearisation”.
Both Pence and Trump’s hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton had raised the spectre of Libyan leader Moamer Khadafi, who gave up atomic weapons only to die years later at the hands of US-backed rebels.
Experts warned that cancelling the meeting could have knock-on effects, especially among allies already rattled by Trump’s unpredictability.
“In a contest of who can be the most erratic leader, President Trump beats Kim Jong Un hands-down,” Joel Wit, founder of the respected 38 North website which monitors North Korea, wrote on Twitter.
“His unsteady hand has left everyone scratching their heads, including our ROK (South Korean) allies.”
But others said Trump’s willingness to walk away could extract further concessions from Pyongyang.
“North Korea will have to propose more detailed plans for denuclearisation if it wants to talk in the future,” Go Myong-hyun, an analyst at Asan Institute of Policy Studies, told AFP.