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Trump-Kim February summit expected to take place in Vietnam

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US officials are planning for President Donald Trump to hold his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month in Vietnam, people familiar with the plans said, suggesting negotiations for the meeting were gathering pace.

[WASHINGTON] US officials are planning for President Donald Trump to hold his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month in Vietnam, people familiar with the plans said, suggesting negotiations for the meeting were gathering pace.

The late-February summit would probably take place in the capital Hanoi, but Danang -- the site of the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting -- and Ho Chi Minh City in the country's south have also been considered, the people said. The details came to light as nuclear envoys for the US, North Korea and South Korea held talks at a resort outside Stockholm, the Associated Press reported, citing the Swedish foreign ministry.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hanoi didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Monday. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told Bloomberg News on Thursday that the Southeast Asian nation would be happy to host the meeting if chosen.

The White House announced on Friday that Mr Trump would meet Mr Kim in late February, following a 90-minute meeting between the president and Kim Yong Chol, one of the North Korean leader's top aides. Kim Yong Chol also met Friday with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

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"Great meeting this week with top Reps," Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday. "Looking forward to meeting with Chairman Kim at the end of February!"

Neither the administration nor the North Koreans offered much else after Friday's meetings about what they'd agreed to and what would be gained from the planned summit. That only raised more questions because so little progress has been made toward the US' ultimate goal -- getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons -- since the first meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Kim.

North Korea has still made no commitments to allow weapons inspections or dismantle its growing arsenal of warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The announcement about the second summit suggested that the US was softening its refusal to relax sanctions against North Korea because Mr Kim had earlier this month threatened to walk away from talks if Mr Trump didn't compromise.

In an interview with the Sinclair Broadcast Group that aired Sunday, Mr Pompeo stressed the need to "reduce" Mr Kim's nuclear capacity, without mentioning his previously stated goal of the "final fully verified denuclearization of North Korea."

"We now need to execute. We need to implement. We've always known this would be a long process," Mr Pompeo said, citing Mr Kim's decision to halt weapons tests as evidence of the administration's success. "These are things that were threatening the United States when President Trump took office. We want to reduce that risk, reduce North Korea's capacity to build out their program."

SWEDISH RESORT

Meanwhile, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the Special US Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui and South Korean nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon were attending "small-format" talks hosted by the Swedish government and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the Associated Press reported. The meeting would mark the first time Mr Biegun has met his North Korean counterpart since his appointment in August.

While Sweden didn't disclose the venue or schedule of the meeting, the Yonhap New Agency of South Korea said the negotiations entered a second day Sunday at a resort in a Stockholm suburb. The TT News Agency of Sweden said the talks were taking place at a conference center on Lake Malaren northwest of the city and would last until Tuesday.

The US doesn't have diplomatic ties with North Korea and relies on Sweden, one of the few Western countries with an embassy in Pyongyang, to represent its interests there.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said last week that Seoul and Washington were discussing rewarding Mr Kim's denuclearization steps with "corresponding measures," including allowing some North-South economic projects to advance. Besides sanctions relief, North Korea is also seeking a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War and limits on US military activity on the peninsula.

The schedule leaves little time for negotiators to craft a detailed agreement before a second summit, especially while the shutdown hampers bureaucratic work in Washington. Before Friday, the two sides had gone three months without a high-level meeting and key details -- including where and when to hold the summit -- must still be worked out.

The security concerns of both leaders make the choice of venue particularly sensitive. Vietnam would represent a strong compromise choice because it has a security partnership with the US and can be reached by Mr Kim by flying entirely over friendly Chinese territory.

BLOOMBERG