ANALYSIS | Photo opportunities. Children waving flags. A spat with the press. Deep fried Hanoi-style spring rolls. Grilled cod fish “cha ca.” Two kinds of beef. Pear kimchi. President Donald Trump’s first full day in Vietnam was more sizzle than substance.
Crowds cheered Trump’s motorcade as it zipped through Hanoi’s streets Wednesday, and he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiled and laughed together as they sat at a round table for a working dinner. The menu included, according to the White House, “marinated tender sirloin grilled with sauce” and a dish called “chocolate lava,” described as “hot runny centered chocolate cake, chocolate crumble” and vanilla ice cream — one of Trump’s favorites.
As he arrived for meetings with senior Vietnamese leaders, Trump was greeted by young children waving small flags of their country and the United States. Trump took a Vietnamese flag from a young girl and waved it toward the press pool traveling with him. The lone substance of those meetings, and his dinner with Kim, was an announcement that the two countries had finalized $21 billion in deals that will see Vietnamese firms buy Boeing jets, GE/CFM engines and technologies from Sabre Corporation.
Trump and his top aides hope Thursday will yield more substance following a series of planned meetings with the North Korean leader over U.S. demands he relinquish his nuclear arsenal and missiles.
Here are three things to watch when Trump and Kim get down to business Thursday:
Is CVID dead?
“Complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” was once uttered regularly by senior White House aides and Trump administration officials — both before and after Trump’s first summit meeting last year with the leader he once mocked by calling him “Little Rocket Man.”
In fact, during a press conference following that summit in Singapore on June 12 Trump uttered the term “complete denuclearization” six times. But more recently, the president and his lieutenants have dropped the term, with Trump himself last week appearing to endorse a far lesser goal for talks with North Korea that he and his aides expect will last for some time before any final deal.
“There’s no testing. As long as there’s not testing, I’m in no rush,” Trump told reporters last week. “If there’s testing, that’s another deal. But there has been no testing.”
“No,” Trump replied Wednesday when a reporter asked as he stood beside Kim if he had dropped his demand that Kim totally give up his nuclear arms program. The two are expected to sign a second “joint agreement” on Thursday, and its wording could signal that U.S. officials have concluded, as American intelligence leaders have stated publicly, Kim does not intend to meet the “complete” standard.
Trump is making a big bet that his 180 degree shift on Kim — whom he once threatened with America’s nuclear arsenal and military — will overcome a number of hurdles standing between him a final deal.
On Wednesday, he expressed confidence that the Hanoi summit would “lead to … a wonderful situation long term.” Why?
“Our relationship is a very special relationship,” he said of Kim.
“Threats have not worked for decades and won’t work now. The best way forward is to engage and try to get the North to open up its economy and its country to outside influences, while slowly attempting to pause and even rollback its nuclear and missile programs,” said University of Southern California international relations professor David Kang.
“No matter what, Hanoi is not the final step. It is one of the first steps toward finding a political relationship between the United States and North Korea that can slowly — hopefully — bring about movement away from nuclearization on the Korean Peninsula,” Kang added.
Former White House aides have written about colleagues making runs to McDonald’s to get fast food for the president. But he is eating much different fare in Hanoi.
A five-course working lunch with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc started with what the White House described as a “fresh shredded green mango salad with scallops, mint leaves and cashew nuts served in a sweet vinaigrette dressing.” The aforementioned spring rolls were stuffed with “shrimp, pork, vermicelli, and vegetables” and “served with a side of sweet and sour fish sauce and red chilies.”
The lunch also featured king crab meat and “roasted Wagyu beef medallions with foie gras and a semi-sweet fermented black rice sauce.”
Kim only got four courses.
The two leaders got underway with a shrimp cocktail dish that came with “thousand island dressing, diced avocado, fresh lemon and herbs.” They wrapped up with “dried persimmon punch,” described as a “traditional beverage sweetened with dried persimmon and honey.”