Latest: Trump plans early departure with North Korea talks 'moving quickly'

Latest: US president Donald Trump plans to depart early from his unprecedented summit with Kim Jong Un, after declaring that nuclear talks with North Korea have moved "more quickly than expected".

Mr Trump had been scheduled to fly back to Washington on Wednesday morning after spending Tuesday with the North Korean leader in Singapore.

President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

But on the eve of the summit, the US leader altered his timetable, opting to return almost 15 hours earlier than scheduled.

The White House said: "The discussions between the United States and North Korea are ongoing and have moved more quickly than expected."

It is not immediately clear what specific progress, if any, had been made in preliminary discussions between US and North Korean officials in the run-up to Tuesday's summit.

In fact, only hours before the White House announcement, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo had seemed to lower expectations for the meeting, which Mr Trump had earlier predicted could potentially yield an on-the-spot deal to end the Korean War.

"We are hopeful this summit will have set the conditions for future successful talks," Mr Pompeo said.

The summit - the first ever between a sitting American president and North Korea's leader - would have seen the two leaders greeting each other, before a one-on-one meeting which a US official said could last up to two hours, with only translators joining them.

The White House said the day-long summit would also include a working lunch and a larger meeting involving aides to both leaders.

On the US side, Mr Trump was to be joined by Mr Pompeo, his chief of staff John Kelly, national security adviser John Bolton and US ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, along with a few others.

Before flying home, Mr Trump planned to speak to reporters in Singapore after concluding the summit, the White House said.

The last-minute change of schedule came as both sides finalised preparations for the meeting.

Mr Trump has forecast a "nice" outcome to the talks, while Mr Kim spent the day out of view.

Update: Donald Trump 'optimistic' ahead of historic summit with Kim Jong Un

US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are preparing for an unprecedented summit in Singapore that could define the fate of millions as well as their own political futures.

Mr Trump predicted a "nice" outcome to tomorrow's talks, while Mr Kim spent the day out of view as both sides finalised their preparations.

Events will begin at 9am local time tomorrow with a handshake between the two leaders before a one-on-one meeting, with only translators present for up to two hours before any advisers are admitted.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo told reporters that ongoing talks between the two countries are advancing well, but stressed the meeting would be the beginning of a process that would "set the conditions for future talks".

Mr Pompeo added that the US was prepared to take action to provide North Korea with "sufficient certainty" that denuclearisation "is not something that ends badly for them".

He would not say whether that included the possibility of withdrawing US troops from the Korean Peninsula.

The summit will be the first between a North Korean leader and a sitting American president.

In Singapore, the island city-state hosting the summit, the sense of anticipation was palpable, with people lining spotless streets waving mobile phones as Mr Trump headed to meet Singapore's prime minister Lee Hsien Loong.

As Mr Trump and Mr Lee sat down for a working lunch at the Istana house, the US leader sounded optimistic, telling his Singaporean counterpart: "We've got a very interesting meeting in particular tomorrow, and I think things can work out very nicely."

Mr Trump also called the leaders of South Korea and Japan in advance of the summit, Mr Pompeo said.

Meanwhile, US and North Korean officials huddled at the Ritz-Carlton hotel ahead of the sit-down aimed at resolving a stand-off over Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal.

A second round of meetings is planned for the afternoon as officials work to lay the groundwork for progress on Tuesday.

Delegates are outlining specific goals for what Mr Trump and Mr Kim should try to accomplish and multiple scenarios for how key issues can be resolved.

The meetings also served as an ice-breaker of sorts as the teams worked to get better acquainted after decades of minimal US-North Korean contact.

Trump has said he hopes to make a legacy-defining deal for the North to give up its nuclear weapons, though he has recently sought to minimise expectations, saying additional meetings may be necessary.

The North has faced crippling diplomatic and economic sanctions as it has advanced development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

Earlier: Trump and Kim arrive in Singapore ahead of high-stakes summit

US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have converged in Singapore ahead of one of the most unusual and highly anticipated summits in recent world history.

Mr Trump descended from Air Force One into the steamy Singapore night, greeting officials and declaring he felt “very good” before being whisked away to his hotel via a route lined with police and photo-snapping onlookers.

Mr Trump travelled to Singapore from Canada, where he met with other world leaders.

Hours earlier, a jet carrying Mr Kim landed. After shaking hands with Singapore’s foreign minister, Mr Kim sped through the streets in a limousine, two large North Korean flags fluttering on the car, surrounded by other black vehicles with tinted windows and bound for the luxurious and closely guarded St Regis Hotel.

He and Mr Trump are set to meet on Tuesday morning in the first summit of its kind between a leader of North Korea and a sitting US president.

A US official said on Monday that Mr Trump and Mr Kim will first meet one on one with translators in a session that could last up to two hours before they open the meeting to their respective advisers.

Mr Kim smiled broadly on Sunday evening as he met with Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“The entire world is watching the historic summit between (North Korea) and the United States of America, and thanks to your sincere efforts… we were able to complete the preparations for the historic summit,” Mr Kim told Mr Lee through an interpreter.

Mr Trump is set to meet with Mr Lee on Monday.

Mr Trump has said he hopes to make a legacy-defining deal for the North to give up its nuclear weapons, though he has recently sought to minimise expectations, saying more than one meeting may be necessary.

The North has faced crippling diplomatic and economic sanctions as it has advanced development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

Experts believe the North is on the brink of being able to target the entire US mainland with its nuclear-armed missiles, and while there is deep scepticism that Mr Kim will quickly give up those hard-won nukes, there is also some hope that diplomacy can replace the animosity between the US and the North.

US and North Korean officials are set to meet on Monday morning in Singapore to make final preparations for Tuesday’s meeting.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sung Kim, the US ambassador to the Philippines who has taken the lead on policy negotiations with the North, will hold a “working group” with a North Korean delegation.

The North Korean autocrat’s every move will be followed by 3,000 journalists who have converged on Singapore, and by gawkers around the world, up until he shakes hands with Mr Trump on Tuesday.

It is a reflection of the intense global curiosity over Mr Kim’s sudden turn to diplomacy in recent months after a slew of North Korean nuclear and missile tests last year raised serious fears of war.

But it was only Monday morning in North Korea that the government news agency reported that Mr Kim was in Singapore, had met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and would meet Mr Trump on Tuesday.

One dispatch by the Korean Central News Agency said North Korea and the US would exchange “wide-ranging and profound views” on establishing new relations, building a “permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism,” achieving denuclearisation and “other issues of mutual concern, as required by the changed era”.

Part of the interest in Tuesday’s summit is simply because Mr Kim has had limited appearances on the world stage. He has only publicly left his country three times since taking power after his father’s death in late 2011 — travelling twice to China and once across his shared border with the South to the southern part of the Demilitarised Zone for recent summits with the leaders of China and South Korea, respectively.

But it is Mr Kim’s pursuit of nuclear weapons that gives his meeting with Mr Trump such high stakes.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong (Wong Maye-E/AP)

The meeting was initially meant to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons, but the talks have been portrayed by Mr Trump in recent days more as a get-to-know-you session.

Mr Trump has also raised the possibility of further summits and an agreement ending the Korean War by replacing the armistice signed in 1953 with a peace treaty. China and South Korea would have to sign off on any legal treaty.

It is unclear what Mr Trump and Mr Kim might decide on Tuesday.

Pyongyang has said it is willing to deal away its entire nuclear arsenal if the United States provides it with reliable security assurances and other benefits. But many say this is highly unlikely, given how hard it has been for Mr Kim to build his programme and given that the weapons are seen as the major guarantee to his holding onto unchecked power.

Any nuclear deal will hinge on North Korea’s willingness to allow unfettered outside inspections of the country’s warheads and nuclear fuel, much of which is likely kept in a vast complex of underground facilities. Past nuclear deals have crumbled over North Korea’s reluctance to open its doors to outsiders.

Another possibility from the summit is a deal to end the Korean War, which North Korea has long demanded, presumably, in part, to get US troops off the Korean Peninsula and, eventually, pave the way for a North Korean-led unified Korea.

The fighting ended on July 27 1953 but the war technically continues today because instead of a difficult-to-negotiate peace treaty, military officers for the US-led United Nations, North Korea and China signed an armistice that halted the fighting.

The North may see a treaty — and its presumed safety assurances from Washington — as its best way of preserving the Kim family dynasty. The ensuing recognition as a “normal country” could then allow sanctions relief, and later international aid and investment.

Just meeting with Mr Trump will also give Mr Kim a recognition North Korea has long sought, setting him up as global player and the leader of a country worthy of respect.

- Digital Desk and Press Association


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