HANOI -- U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are set for their second face-to-face meeting this week in the capital of Vietnam, with the world looking for progress toward the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula the two leaders agreed on last June.
"I think we’ll have a very tremendous summit," Trump said Monday morning at a White House business session with state governors, before he headed off to Vietnam. "We want denuclearization, and I think he’ll have a country that will set a lot of records for speed in terms of an economy," the president said of Kim.
The Hanoi summit, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, is likely to be scrutinized more closely than their first meeting in Singapore, which was hailed as a major achievement for the simple fact that it happened at all. Never before had a U.S. president and North Korean leader met.
Experts are already skeptical that Trump and Kim will reach a sweeping deal this time around, since working-level negotiations held after the Singapore summit appear to have produced little fruit.
Senior U.S. administration officials told reporters last week that Washington and Pyongyang still have not settled on a definition of "denuclearization." So one task in Hanoi will be to establish a "shared understanding of what denuclearization is," according to one official.
Trump has been criticized for exaggerating the North's denuclearization. Soon after the Singapore summit, the president tweeted that North Korea was no longer a "nuclear threat."
Now, with no sign that Pyongyang is willing to make major concessions, the Trump administration is trying to lower expectations.
Last Sunday, Trump tweeted that he and Kim "both expect a continuation of the progress made at first Summit in Singapore." He ended that tweet with a one-word question: "Denuclearization?"
Later in the day, the president told governors visiting the White House that he was happy with the status quo as long as North Korea did not resume weapons tests.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also conceded on Sunday that further meetings could be needed to reach a comprehensive deal. "There may have to be another summit," Pompeo told Fox News Sunday. "We may not get everything done this week. We hope we'll make a substantial step along the way."
Even so, the two leaders are believed to be eager to come away with something tangible. Some experts see a possibility of the North agreeing to dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for U.S. sanctions relief.
"The meeting will probably yield a modest deal involving the U.S. agreeing to ease economic and security pressure on North Korea in tandem with steps Kim takes to reduce his nuclear arsenal," said Scott Seaman, a director at Eurasia Group.
Trump will urge Kim to commit to reducing the size and potency of the North's ballistic missile program, so that the president can claim he is addressing the most immediate and direct threat to the U.S., Seaman added.
Joel Wit, senior fellow at the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, said it was important to keep a cool head. "You have to have realistic expectations for what will happen," Wit told a forum in Seoul on Friday. "Think of 60 years of hostility between the United States and North Korea. You can't end that overnight."
Wit, a former U.S. negotiator during the Clinton administration, stressed there will be plenty of unanswered questions even after Trump and Kim agree on a process: how to dismantle nuclear arms and facilities, who will do that, and who will pay for the expenses. "All of them are enormously complicated," he added.
Meanwhile, host country Vietnam, which once fought against America, is busy preparing for a big moment in the international spotlight.
American, North Korean and Vietnamese flags are flying along the motorway leading into Hanoi from Noi Boi International Airport.
The choice of Vietnam as the venue is highly symbolic.
For Washington, the Southeast Asian country is an example of a communist state that has overcome international isolation to become one of the world's fastest-growing economies. For Pyongyang, it is a country that successfully transformed its economy from ruin without democratizing.
Both Trump and Kim are expected to arrive in Hanoi on Tuesday.