North Korea confirms leader Kim Jong Un on train to summit

Vietnam has announced an unprecedented traffic ban along a possible arrival route of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ahead of his second summit with President Donald Trump in Hanoi next week.

Eyewitnesses at the border between North Korea and China reported seeing an armored train crossing into Chinese territory on Saturday, four days before North Korea's Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump are set to meet in Vietnam next Wednesday and Thursday.

A South Korean diplomat involved in the talks said Kim has agreed to allow USA inspectors into the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, which has processed plutonium and uranium for Pyongyang's nukes.

Kim is visiting Vietnam at the invitation of President Nguyen Phu Trong, who is also general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, Vietnam's foreign ministry said in a statement earlier on Saturday, but it gave no further details.

Trump and Kim will meet in Hanoi eight months after their historic summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting United States president and a North Korean leader, where they pledged to work toward the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

Kim has previously travelled in his olive green train to Beijing and may stop in the Chinese capital, meeting President Xi Jinping as he did prior to his historic meetings with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in past year.

Trump and Kim met in June in Singapore, producing a vaguely worded agreement on denuclearisation, but progress has since stalled, with the two sides disagreeing over what the agreement meant.

Rail travel is a family tradition that was started by Kim's grandfather, the North's founder Kim Il Sung.

Kim's train will reportedly stop at the Vietnamese border station of Dong Dang, after which he will proceed by vehicle to Hanoi, with local authorities planning to close the stretch of road that he will travel on between the station and the capital. His late father, Kim Jong Il, travelled all the way to Moscow by train in 2001. TV footage and photos distributed by the North's state-run news agency showed Kim inspecting a guard of honor at the Pyongyang station before waving from the train.

Jeong Young-tae of the Institute of North Korean Studies in Seoul said the safest way to travel would be to take a plane provided by Beijing.

Vietnamese police have stepped up security around the border station.

Flying on a state jet, codenamed "Chammae-1", was originally considered the most likely option, but the possibility of a train trip gained significant traction after a senior North Korean official preparing in Hanoi for the leader's trip visited a train station near the border with China.

But China may view the hassle as a necessary cost to get Kim to the summit, he told AFP news agency.

  • Tracy Klein