President Donald Trump hoped for "great things" from his second meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un as he paid a courtesy call Wednesday on his Vietnamese hosts. Kim was expected to take in some sights before the leaders open their second nuclear summit with private talks and a social dinner.
But the carnival-like atmosphere in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, with street artists painting likenesses of the leaders and vendors hawking T-shirts emblazoned with their faces, stood in contrast to the serious items on the agenda: North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Trump and Kim first met last June in Singapore, a summit that was long on historic pageantry but short on any enforceable agreements for North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal.
North Korea has spent decades, at great economic sacrifice, building its nuclear program, and there is widespread skepticism that it will give away that program cheaply.
Trump has praised Pyongyang for ceasing missile tests and has appeared to ease up on demanding a timeline for disarmament. He hopes that Kim, who is seeking relief from crushing U.S. sanctions, will opt to give up his nuclear weapons program in exchange for help revitalizing his country's economy.
Trump has held up the economic vitality of former U.S. adversary Vietnam as model for North Korea should it abandon its nuclear weapons pursuit.
As the U.S. delegation, led by Trump, sat down with the Vietnamese, Trump talked of being driven through Hanoi after he arrived and seeing "how Vietnam is thriving. And very importantly we have a very big dinner tonight, as you know, and meetings with North Korea, Chairman Kim, and we both felt very good about having this very important summit in Vietnam because you really are an example as to what can happen, with good thinking."
Trump thanked his hosts and added that "hopefully great things will happen later on with our meeting" with the North Koreans.
The president sounded a similar message about Vietnamese prosperity in a tweet before he left his heavily guarded hotel.
"Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth. North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize," Trump tweeted Wednesday, hours before he and Kim were due to meet again. "The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un. We will know fairly soon - Very Interesting!"
Trump had a full day of meetings with Vietnamese officials on tap before the one-on-one sit-down and dinner with Kim later Wednesday. Kim was expected to leave his locked-down hotel to visit various sites in Hanoi.
Trump remains eager to claim an attention-grabbing victory to offset the political turmoil he faces at home.
With the president outside the U.S., his now-disbarred former personal lawyer was testifying publicly on Capitol Hill later Wednesday about alleged misconduct by Trump. The Democratic-led House, with backing from several Republicans, approved legislation aimed at blocking the Republican president from steering billions of dollars to build barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. A House committee also voted to subpoena administration officials over family separations at the border.
Michael Cohen, once Trump's loyal attorney and fixer, has turned on his former boss and cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into whether the Trump's presidential campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president tried to obstruct the investigation.
The president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., accused Democrats in Congress of scheduling Cohen's testimony to overshadow the summit.
"After 60 years of failed attempts trying to end the war, trying to end nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula, you have finally a president who's willing to do it," he told Fox News Channel. "For the Democrats to try to counter program that kind of progress — to try to perhaps somehow distract him with this nonsense ... it just goes to show you how much those Democrats really disdain Trump but also America."
The president jabbed at Democrats too, saying in a tweet that they "should stop talking about what I should do with North Korea and ask themselves instead why they didn't do 'it' during eight years of the Obama Administration?"