North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12 2018. Picture: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12 2018. Picture: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST

Seoul — A year after President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un met for the first time, they appear committed to a personal bond on which the hope for peace appears to rest, despite a stalemate in efforts to get Kim to abandon nuclear weapons.

Trump and Kim agreed at the first US-North Korea summit in Singapore to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, easing fears of war between their countries.

But there has been little progress since then and tension has again been rising recently with North Korea resuming some limited testing of weapons and warning of “truly undesired consequences” if the US was not more flexible.

But Trump said on Tuesday he had received a “beautiful letter” from Kim.

“I can’t show you the letter obviously, but it was a very personal, very warm, very nice letter," Trump told reporters outside the White House.

Trump, who has tried to convert what he feels is a warm personal relationship with Kim into a diplomatic breakthrough, gave no details, but repeated that he believed North Korea had "tremendous potential”.

“I think that something will happen that’s going to be very positive,” he said.

North Korea's state media has not mentioned any letter.

The optimism that the two leaders generated in Singapore all but evaporated in February when a second summit, in Vietnam, dramatically fell apart without even a recommitment to the general goals outlined in a statement signed in Singapore.

Since then, North Korea has complained of US sanctions and Kim said he would wait until the end of the year before deciding on whether to take a “new path".

Both sides have said they are open to talks but that the other side needs to change their policy.

The US says North Korea needs to make verifiable progress toward giving up its nuclear weapons before any sanctions are eased, while North Korea says the US has done nothing to reward steps already taken.

In the weeks ahead of Wednesday's anniversary of the Singapore summit, North Korean state media has repeatedly warned that the statement signed there was in danger of being rendered meaningless if the US did not drop demands for North Korea to unilaterally dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

‘Ups and downs’

According to the Singapore foreign ministry, North Korea's embassy there had been planning an event to commemorate the summit anniversary and invited Singapore officials. But it later cancelled the event.

Still, North Korea has said it “remains unchanged in its stand and will cherish and implement in good faith” the Singapore statement, which included vague promises to improve relations and eventually pursue the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

A third summit between Trump and Kim was possible but the ball was in Pyongyang's court, White House national security adviser John Bolton said on Tuesday.

Bolton said the United States was continuing its “maximum pressure campaign” because Kim still appeared not to have made “a strategic decision to give up the pursuit of deliverable nuclear weapons.”

In a briefing on Monday, US state department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said North Korea is “one of the toughest national security challenges” but that US. officials are working “diligently” to follow up on North Korea's promise to denuclearise.

"There’s always ups and downs, and we remain confident that Kim Jong-un and his government will see a path for a brighter future for the North Korean people," she told reporters.

“And one year later, that’s what we are still aspiring to and still hoping for while noting, of course, that economic sanctions do remain.”

Those sanctions remain a key sticking point, with North Korea calling them illegal after the US announced it had seized a North Korean cargo ship accused of illicit coal shipments in violation of sanctions.

Earlier in June, acting US secretary of defence Patrick Shanahan gave Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe a 32-page book of photographs and satellite images showing North Korean ships evading sanctions of China's coasts, in a bid to secure more sanctions enforcement by Beijing.

In May, Kim oversaw the test launch of new, short-range missiles while giving a cold shoulder to projects planned with South Korea.

The North's leader has maintained his efforts to build diplomatic ties with other countries, meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in April.

Kim sent Putin a congratulatory message on Wednesday saying he believed that “the common understanding and agreements made at our first significant meeting will bear rich fruits”. 

Reuters