HANOI — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived at a red-carpet reception in Vietnam Tuesday ahead of a summit meeting with President Trump, after a 65-hour, 2,500-mile train journey from Pyongyang through China.
Kim disembarked from his personal green armored train at 8:22 a.m. on a cold, rainy morning at Dong Dang station shortly after crossing the Chinese border.
He was greeted by Vietnamese officials, chatting briefly and smiling. He was handed a bouquet of flowers and shook hands with a long line of officials and military officers before walking past an honor guard dressed in white uniforms and black boots. Outside the station, he smiled and waved at a crowd of people carrying Vietnamese and North Korean flags.
Kim then got into his personal Mercedes limousine. The car was surrounded by 12 bodyguards, who jogged alongside it briefly before it picked up speed for the final 100 miles to Hanoi.
Trump is expected to arrive Tuesday evening.
Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, was also seen getting off the train. Already there to greet the North Korean leader were Kim Hyok Chol, who is the recently appointed counterpart of U.S. North Korea envoy Stephen Biegun, and Kim Chang Son, who is Kim Jong Un’s de facto chief of staff.
Dong Dang station had been cordoned off since Monday, with soldiers and police positioned outside. The entire road from the border town to the capital was closed from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time Tuesday.
Kim flew to his last summit meeting with Trump in Singapore, but North Korea prefers its leaders to stay grounded if at all possible. Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, was rumored to have a fear of flying.
Featuring heavy armor and bulletproof tinted windows, the train is believed to travel at an average speed of about 35 miles per hour. A South Korean media report based on intelligence reports and defectors’ accounts said it contains conference rooms, an audience chamber, an office with TV screens and satellite phones, and bedrooms. Japan’s Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported it also carries a small helicopter in case of emergencies.
Kim’s summit with Trump is scheduled to begin with a private dinner Wednesday evening, the White House announced, followed by a series of official meetings Thursday. Trump will be joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney for the dinner. Kim will also have two aides present, and both men will have translators.
South Korea’s state-run Yonhap news agency said Hanoi Opera House is a possible venue for the dinner, after it was visited by chief of staff Kim Chang Son and U.S. officials last week.
Trump will meet Vietnam’s president and prime minister on Wednesday before his dinner with Kim.
Just before 11 a.m., Kim’s motorcade, numbering dozens of vehicles, including two armored tactical vehicles with machine guns mounted on top, sped past a few hundred onlookers and nearly as many reporters along Pho Ly Thuong, a boulevard in the center of Hanoi that was cordoned off by police. Some Vietnamese waved American, North Korean and Vietnamese flags as the motorcade pulled up to the Melia, a hotel where Kim and his entourage are staying. His bodyguards could be seen sprinting into place in front of the main entrance for Kim’s arrival.
The Melia also is housing some of the traveling White House press corps, mostly television news correspondents from the major networks, who have traveled here to cover the summit — an awkward coincidence for an authoritarian ruler who is used to tightly controlled state media in North Korea.
The Melia is a Spanish-owned hotel that has hosted big-name leaders including former Cuban president Raúl Castro, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and former U.S. defense secretary Jim Mattis.
Kim’s schedule in Vietnam has not been publicly announced. Diplomats based in Hanoi said Kim might visit the industrial town of Haiphong and the nearby picturesque tourist site of Ha Long Bay, where limestone karsts rise out of emerald seas. But a rumored trip to a factory operated by South Korean electronics giant Samsung north of Hanoi now appeared unlikely, one official said.
Kim is thought to be keen to develop North Korea’s economy, especially by promoting tourism and attracting foreign investment into special economic zones.
The U.S. and South Korean governments also want to encourage him to follow Vietnam’s path from socialism to free-market reform, and his side trips could encourage the notion that he might indeed want to move North Korea away from state socialism and self-reliance.
But many experts say there is no sign he has any intention of relaxing his state’s vice-like grip on its people or allowing foreign influence to spread. Vietnam’s incredible opening to the world undertaken over the past three decades is unlikely to be a path for North Korea to follow.
North Korea state media showed a video of Kim’s departure from Pyongyang on Saturday, with a platform clock showing 1627 (4:27 p.m.) on Feb. 23 as he strolled down a long red carpet dressed in a long black overcoat, past an armed guard.
He was seen waving to a small crowd of clapping and cheering people ecstatically waving pink plastic flowers. A line of officials was then seen walking down the platform, also clapping.
Video footage showed Kim having a pre-dawn smoke at a train station in China hours before his arrival in Hanoi. The footage from Japan’s TBS-JNN shows Kim pacing up on the platform at Nanning Station, taking a drag and chatting to officials. His sister holds a crystal ashtray for him to stub out a cigarette, and he later lights up again.
Hanoi’s exquisite French Colonial-style Metropole hotel is a likely venue for the summit itself, diplomats said. U.S. security and logistics planners were spotted on the hotel grounds on Monday, while reporters and television cameras were gathered outside the building in the heart of the old city.
Signs of the historic tête-à-tête between Trump and Kim haven’t been confined to the Vietnamese capital’s elite travel locales. In Hanoi’s Old Quarter, shopkeepers, T-shirt makers and flag designers are making the most out of the rare meeting of two longtime adversaries with a host of commemorative swag.
For 100,000 dong ($4.30), tourists can buy a flag emblazoned with the two leaders’ faces that reads “Make the World Better.” One local T-shirt printer said he couldn’t meet the demand for the Kim-Trump shirts and had to use hair dryers to speed up the production process.
A local microbrewer is now offering a specialty brew “Kim Jong Ale,” a kimchi sour ale with gentle and refreshing tart notes that belied the dictator’s ignominious reputation.
The rapidly developing communist country has embraced Washington in recent years as it seeks to counterbalance its long-standing but often antagonistic and sometimes hostile relationship with Beijing.
As word of a potential second summit between Kim and Trump circulated last year, Vietnamese officials quickly proposed to play host, diplomats said. The interest Vietnam’s leaders have in providing a forum to reduce tensions between the two sides appears to have public support as well.
In interviews with shopkeepers along the Old Quarter’s bustling streets and sidewalks, vendors expressed support for peaceful diplomatic dialogue, and one T-shirt printer said he sold more summit shirts to locals than foreigners.
Yonhap reported that Kim will stay until Saturday, citing an unnamed source.
“On his train trip back, Chairman Kim can drop by Beijing and debrief President Xi Jinping on the outcome of the second summit,” said Cheong Seong-chang, an expert at South Korea’s Sejong Institute. “Kim is expected to reassure Xi about his commitment to denuclearization talks and ask for military and economic support from China.”
The United States’ main allies in Asia, South Korea and Japan, may have to wait longer for face-to-face debriefs. Trump will fly straight back to Washington after the summit, while Pompeo will take a plane to the Philippines.
Min Joo Kim and David Nakamura contributed to this report.