N. Korea's Kim arrives in Singapore for historic Trump summit

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Singapore Sunday for an unprecedented summit with Donald Trump, an attempt to address the last festering legacy of the Cold War, with the US president calling it a "one time shot" at peace.

Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal -- which has seen it subjected to several sets of UN Security Council sanctions and threatened with military action by the Trump administration -- will top the agenda.

Bringing the Korean War to a formal end 65 years after hostilities ceased will also be on the table at the first-ever summit between a North Korean leader and a sitting president of its "imperialist enemy".

Kim arrived in Singapore on board an Air China 747 that according to flight tracking website Flightradar24 took off from Pyongyang in the morning ostensibly bound for Beijing, then changed its flight number midair and headed south.

The city-state's foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan tweeted a picture of himself shaking hands with Kim at Changi Airport, and the North Korean leader was driven into the centre in a stretch Mercedes-Benz limousine, accompanied by a convoy of more than 20 vehicles.

Kim was due to meet Singaporean President Lee Hsien Loong later on Sunday, the city-state's foreign ministry said, while Trump was flying from Canada on board Air Force One after leaving the G7 summit early.

Authorities imposed tight security around the summit venue and related luxury hotels -- including installing extra pot plants outside Kim's expected accommodation to obstruct reporters' views.

- 'Not just a photo op' -

Tuesday's Singapore meeting is the climax of the astonishing flurry of diplomacy on and around the Korean peninsula this year, but critics charge that it risks being largely a triumph of style over substance.

Washington is demanding the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation (CVID) of the North, while Pyongyang has so far only made public pledges of its commitment to the denuclearisation of the peninsula -- a term open to wide interpretation -- while seeking security guarantees.

Former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage expected little progress on the key issue of defining denuclearisation.

"The success will be in the shutter clicks of the cameras," he said. "They both get what they want."

Trump insisted last week that the summit would "not be just a photo op", saying it would help forge a "good relationship" that would lead to a "process" towards the "ultimate making of a deal".

But as he embarked for Singapore he changed his tune, calling it a "one-time shot" and adding he will know "within the first minute" whether an agreement will be possible.

"If I think it won't happen, I'm not going to waste my time," he said.

He has also dangled the prospect of Kim Jong Un visiting Washington if the meeting goes well.

But even the merit of the event itself -- long sought by the North, and which Trump apparently impulsively agreed to in March, reportedly without consulting his advisers -- has been called into question.

"People call it a historic summit but... it is important to understand that this summit was available to any US president who wanted to do it and the point is no US president wanted to do this, and for good reasons," said Christopher Hill, a former lead US nuclear negotiator with North Korea.

- Decades of tensions -

The two countries have been at loggerheads for decades.

The North invaded the South in 1950 and the ensuing war saw US-led UN troops backing Seoul fight their way to a stalemate against Pyongyang's forces which were aided by Russia and China, before the conflict ended in stalemate and an armistice which sealed the division of the peninsula.

Sporadic provocations by the North have continued while Pyongyang has made increasing advances in its nuclear arsenal, which it says it needs to defend against the risk of a US invasion.

Last year it carried out by far its most powerful nuclear test to date and launched missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, sending tensions soaring to a level unseen in years as a newly-elected Trump traded threats of war and colourful personal insults with Kim, with Trump dubbed a "dotard" and Kim "Little Rocket Man".

But the South's Winter Olympics in February catalysed a flurry of diplomatic moves as Seoul's dovish leader Moon Jae-in sought to bring the two sides together.

Kim has met twice with both Moon and Xi Jinping, the president of China, long the North's most important ally.

Pyongyang has taken some steps to show sincerity, returning US detainees and blowing up its nuclear test site.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that progress was being made in bringing the two sides together in their understanding of denuclearisation.

But Trump -- for whom a major accomplishment would bolster his position ahead of midterm elections in November -- baffled observers when he said he did not think he had to prepare "very much" for the summit.

"It's about attitude," Trump said. "So this isn't a question of preparation."

A nuclear-powered summit
Singapore (AFP) June 10, 2018 - Seven decades of antagonism and mistrust will shadow Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un as they sit down for their unprecedented summit in Singapore -- historical baggage that will weigh heavily on discussions over North Korea's nuclear arsenal and how far Pyongyang is willing to go to meet US demands that it be permanently dismantled.

Washington is insisting the North give up its weapons in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way, while Pyongyang has balked at the idea of unilateral disarmament, saying it needs its nuclear and missile programmes as long as the United States and South Korea pose a security threat.

The search for a viable way forward that satisfies both sides will involve bridging a number of wide and potentially perilous gaps.

What weapons does North Korea have?

Estimates of Pyongyang's arsenal vary.

Monitoring groups estimated the yield from the North's sixth and last atomic test in September to be as high as 250 kilotons -- 16 times more powerful than the US bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 and the kind of yield generated by a hydrogen bomb.

Seoul's 2016 defence white paper, the most recent available, estimated the North had 50 kilos of plutonium -- reportedly enough for about 10 bombs -- and a "considerable" but unquantified ability to produce uranium weapons.

Last year, the Washington Post reported a US intelligence assessment that the North had up to 60 nuclear devices.

Where the North keeps its missiles is not publicly known, but it has extensive experience in tunnelling and it is believed they are stored at underground facilities scattered around the country.

They are also mobile -- it has put transporters on show at military parades.

The North has yet to conclusively demonstrate that it has the capability to shrink a nuclear warhead to fit inside a missile, accurate targeting, or the re-entry technology needed for it to survive returning to the Earth's atmosphere from space.

But it says it has mastered all three, and Kim has declared the development of the country's "treasured sword" complete.

Aside from its nuclear arsenal, the North is also believed to have 2,500 to 5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons developed since the 1980s, according to the South's military.

What does the US have?

US President Donald Trump says his nuclear button is bigger than Kim's -- and it works.

According to the State Department, as of September 1, the US has a total of 1,393 deployed nuclear warheads, deliverable by land- and submarine-based missiles and heavy bombers.

It has thousands more in stockpiles and awaiting dismantlement, campaign groups say, with the Arms Control Association putting the total at 6,550 last year.

The US withdrew tactical nuclear weapons from the South in the 1990s and Seoul does not have any itself.

But the US can reach targets anywhere with conventional or nuclear munitions.

It has long-range bombers, mid-air refuelling capabilities, and a fleet of nuclear submarines constantly at sea, each armed with phenomenal destructive power.

What has Pyongyang promised?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the most senior US official to have met Kim Jong Un, said the North Korean leader had personally informed him that Pyongyang was ready to denuclearise.

And Trump has been unequivocal, saying: "They have to de-nuke. If they don't de-nuclearise, that will not be acceptable."

For its part, North Korea has repeatedly expressed a commitment to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but the phrase is a diplomatic euphemism open to interpretation on both sides and Pyongyang has given no public indication of what concessions it might be offering.

According to Seoul, it has offered to consider giving up its nuclear weapons in exchange for unspecified security guarantees.

When Kim visited key ally Beijing in March in only his first foreign trip as leader, China's state media cited him as saying that the issue could be resolved if Seoul and Washington take "progressive and synchronous measures for the realisation of peace" -- implying some form of quid pro quo.

What does that imply?

Pyongyang says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the United States, and interprets threats against it widely -- it has regularly condemned US-South Korean joint military exercises as preparations for invasion.

Under the 1953 Mutual Defence Treaty between South Korea and the US, Washington is duty-bound to come to its ally's aid if attacked.

In the past Pyongyang has demanded the end of the alliance and the withdrawal of US troops from the South.

The US has 28,500 troops stationed in the country to defend it from its neighbour, and Washington's nuclear arsenal is a key part of its defence capabilities -- it does not have a "no first use" policy.

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Trump dangles White House invite for Kim
Washington (AFP) June 7, 2018
US President Donald Trump insisted Thursday he is "very well-prepared" for a historic and potentially fraught summit with Kim Jong Un in five days, while hinting at the signing of a peace treaty and even a future White House visit by the North Korean dictator. Hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington, Trump tried to quell concerns about his lack of diplomatic or foreign policy experience heading into the high-stakes talks. "I'm very well prepared. I don't think I have to prepare ... read more

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