Expectations that Washington and Pyongyang will make significant progress towards a possible peace pact gained momentum on Monday as Vietnam was all set to host the North Korean leader and the president of the United States for a second historic summit in Hanoi.
The summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump is set to take place on Feb. 27 and 28 as both the leaders will meet for the latest round of diplomacy between them after their first meeting in Singapore last year.
Even though Kim's itinerary remains shrouded in secrecy, his train is expected to arrive on Tuesday, and would result in the first visit to Vietnam by a North Korean leader since Vietnam's reunification in 1975.
With two days to go before the start of the summit - in which advances are expected on denuclearization of North Korea and possibly some sort of a peace treaty - media reported on Monday that the armored train carrying Kim was chugging closer to the border between China and Vietnam.
Sources in China confirmed to South Korea's Yonhap agency that the train, which left Pyongyang on Saturday, passed through Wuhan, Changsha and Hengyang (central China) under a thick security cover and was moving southwards.
Kim is expected to enter Vietnam through Dong Dang. He will cover the remaining 170 kilometers (some 105 miles) to Hanoi from there by road in his limousine.
The stretch of the road will be closed to the public for some eight hours on Tuesday for security reasons, according to Vietnamese media.
Trump, who leaves from Washington on Monday onboard the Air Force One, is also expected in Hanoi on Tuesday, but without any mystery or expectation surrounding his visit. He last visited the city towards the end of 2017.
On Sunday, the US president once again praised Kim - with whom he used to exchange abuses and threats until some 12 months ago - and claimed if North Korea gave up nuclear weapons it could become among the world's greatest economic powers.
"We both expect a continuation of the progress made at first summit in Singapore," Trump tweeted, referring to the talks between the two leaders in the first summit last year.
Several sources told Yonhap that Kim and Trump will dine together on Wednesday in the Vietnamese capital, possibly at the Hanoi Opera House, given that the North Korean leader's chief of staff Kim Chang-son recently visited the site along with some US officials.
The second summit is expected to make progress on talks initiated in the first summit held in June 2018, when both countries agreed to work towards the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, while Washington promised security guarantees to ensure the survival of the regime.
The lack of a clear route-map has stalled further progress since then in this regard, leading the White House in recent days to stress on the need for a clear shared definition with Kim on what the term denuclearization would imply.
In turn, murmurs were abound on Monday over the likelihood of both countries reaching some sort of political agreement at the summit to formally bring an end to the Korean War (1950-53), after the South Korean government suggested such a possibility.
"We don't know what format an end-of-war declaration would take, but there is every possibility of the US and the North reaching agreement," South Korea's presidential spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom said.
However, he added that replacing the ceasefire that brought an end to the war with a definitive peace treaty would take time, and recalled that such a pact would need to be multilateral initiative and include China and South Korea.
The armistice ending the conflict was signed by Pyongyang, Washington (representing the United Nations Command that it led) and the so called People's Volunteer Army of China.
The signing of a peace treaty, which would shield Pyongyang from the possibility of a US invasion or attack, and lifting of sanctions have been among the chief demands of North Korea for dismantling its nuclear installations.
By Andres Sanchez Braun