SINGAPORE – On an island isolated from the crowd of international reporters, an important collaborator of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Wednesday with his US counterpart to plan one of the most anticipated diplomatic events in a decade.
The meeting in Singapore, one of three bilateral meetings held this week to save a summit between Kim and President Trump, dealt exclusively with logistics, but it has been kept secret.
Hotel security blocked journalists from the complex's facilities on the southeast coast of Singapore, and the White House and the State Department refused to confirm even mundane details, such as meeting dates or participants.
The logistics meeting came amid new doubts that Kim and President Trump will actually sit down to negotiate US demand. for the complete dismantling of Pyongyang's nuclear program. Last week, Trump canceled the summit, but days later approved a series of new talks in New York, Singapore and the demilitarized zone of Korea to explore the possibility of putting it back into operation. But on Wednesday, a senior official in South Korea warned that there are still "significant" differences between the two sides on how to achieve denuclearization.
The two teams in Singapore have the task of promoting the logistics of the summit, from the spaces of the place to transport to security to group photographs. They face a daunting deadline on June 12, and the knowledge that a failed meeting could increase the chances of military confrontation between Washington and Pyongyang.
"We must remember that the summits of today between two nations are completely scripted: no detail, agenda item or result is left to chance," said Harry Kazianis, an expert from Asia at the Center for National Interest. . "These take months to negotiate and considering the interests of North Korea and the United States, the result must be determined before the meeting."
In this file photo of May 26, 2018, people watch a television screen showing images of President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Seoul train station. (Lee Jin-Man / AP)
Kim has expressed an unusual degree of interest in summit logistics , calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit to Pyongyang this month on fuel for the 6,000-mile round-trip flight to Singapore and the number of bodyguards he could carry, according to people familiar with the talks that were not authorized to discuss sensitive conversations.
Although most of the logistics teams would be led by a low-level bureaucrat, Kim sent his de facto chief Kim Chang Son, one of the country's most powerful officials, to lead the North Korean team. The US team is led by Joe Hagin, deputy chief of staff of the White House, who has served in all Republican administrations since the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
On Wednesday afternoon, the two teams met at the luxurious Capella hotel on the island of Sentosa. Some members of the US teams UU And North Koreans dressed casually in khaki and short-sleeved buttons in the sweltering 85-degree heat of Singapore. The hotel banned journalists from entering, and a Washington Post reporter was ordered to leave the property after speaking briefly with the US delegation.
When Hagin entered a meeting with Kim Chang Son, he told The Post that the teams were still discussing the summit venue. "We are working on it," he said.
This undated file photo distributed on September 3, 2017 by the North Korean government shows that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, conducts an inspection at an undisclosed location. (Korea Central News Agency / Korea News Service via AP, Archive)
The organizers have many options.
The Shangri-La, a 747-room hotel, has hosted major security conferences for years, including the annual Shangri La Dialogue, which attracts dozens of defense and state ministers, including senior US officials. UU
The Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino, a huge three-tower property with a giant pool at the top, could appeal to Trump's Vegas-style sensibilities, but it also raises a conflict of interest. The complex is owned by a company headed by Sheldon Adelson, one of Trump's main political donors, a perspective that could make it more or less attractive.
"Does it help your larger donor or avoid the swamp effect of doing it?" Said Douglas Paal, an Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Singapore, as the destination of the summit, has both benefits and disadvantages. It is seen as a neutral city because the island has a longstanding trade and investment relationship with the United States and has maintained a diplomatic relationship with North Korea since 1975, while other countries have broken relations. But it will not offer the kind of familiarity that benefited last month's meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim on the border of both countries.
"The South Koreans literally did a dress rehearsal for April 27 in Panmunjom along with North Korean officials a couple of days before the event, but presumably it's not an option in Singapore, so there's a lot of scenic direction and protocol that should be worked to satisfy both parties, "said Scott Snyder, an expert on Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They will have to agree on a minute-by-minute tick-off that describes the course of the whole meeting, including security, media and logistics."
Before the summit, foreign journalists have gathered in Singapore to track every aspect of summit planning. On Monday, when dressed-up Caucasian men started walking through the Shangri-La hotel, the Yonhap News Agency of South Korea speculated with the story that "Western-style" men might be the American team that examines a possible summit, although such sightings are not rare. in an international city like Singapore.
A journalist from South Korea's Channel A television station, Seungjin Ryu, said he spent six hours in warm weather on Tuesday, without going to the bathroom or the food, hoping to see the delegation of North Korea outside the Fullerton hotel.  "We gave up around 1 a.m. and got McDonald's," he said. "This has been exhausting and confusing due to the lack of clear information from the two delegations."
Meanwhile, a separate team of US and North Korean negotiators in the demilitarized zone of Korea seems to have encountered obstacles after a four-hour meeting on Wednesday. That group focuses on the essence of the negotiations in the event of a Trump-Kim summit, but South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said that the different positions of Washington and Pyongyang "are still quite significant" .
"It will not be easy to narrow the gap and find common ground, but I think it would not be impossible," he said during a conference in Seoul.
Discussions are expected to resume as a separate meeting will be held this week between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean official Kim Yong Chol.
Both levels of negotiations between US and North Korean officials are aimed at closing the gap on North Korea's nuclear weapons program ahead of the possible summit on June 12.
Cho said he is still hoping for the meeting between Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol, scheduled for this week.
"Now that the leaders of the two countries are engaged in top-down conversations, I think there are many possibilities to find common ground," he said.
Michelle Ye Hee Lee in Seoul contributed to this report.
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