Singapore: US President Donald Trump said on Monday his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore could “work out very nicely" as officials from both countries sought to narrow differences on how to end a nuclear stand-off on the Korean peninsula.

But US secretary of state Mike Pompeo injected a note of caution ahead of the first-ever meeting of US and North Korean leaders on Tuesday, saying that it remained to be seen whether Kim was sincere about his willingness to denuclearize. Last-minute talks between the two sides were held in the tropical city-state aimed at laying the groundwork for the summit between Trump and Kim, a meeting almost unthinkable just months ago when the two were exchanging insults and threats that raised fears of war.

But after a flurry of diplomatic overtures eased tension in recent months, the two leaders are now headed for a history-making handshake that US officials hope could eventually lead to dismantling of a North Korean nuclear programme that threatens the US.

Offering a preview to reporters on the eve of the summit, Pompeo said it could provide “an unprecedented opportunity to change the trajectory of our relationship and bring peace and prosperity" to North Korea. However, he played down the possibility of a quick breakthrough and said the summit should set the framework for “the hard work that will follow", insisting that North Korea had to move toward complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.

Pyongyang, though, has shown little appetite for surrendering nuclear weapons its considers vital to the survival of Kim’s dynastic rule.

Sanctions on North Korea would remain in place until that had happened, Pompeo said. “If diplomacy does not move in the right direction ... those measures will increase."

“North Korea has previously confirmed to us its willingness to denuclearize and we are eager to see if those words prove sincere," he said.

The White House later said discussions with North Korea had moved “more quickly than expected" and Trump would leave Singapore on Tuesday night, after the summit. He had earlier been scheduled to leave on Wednesday.

Kim is due to leave on Tuesday afternoon.

Trump arrived in Singapore on Sunday after a blow-up over trade with other members of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations in Canada.

The escalating economic clash between Washington and some of its closest global partners cast a cloud over Trump’s efforts to score a major foreign policy win in nuclear talks with North Korea, long one of America’s bitterest foes. Although gaps remain over what denuclearisation would entail, Trump sounded a positive note in a lunch meeting with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“We’ve got a very interesting meeting ... tomorrow, and I just think it’s going to work out very nicely," Trump said.

It was a far cry from last year when Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury" and mocked Kim as “little rocket man," Kim denounced the US president as the “mentally deranged US dotard."

Kim, who also arrived on Sunday, remained ensconced in the heavily guarded St Regis Hotel, where he is staying. There was also no sign of his sister, Kim Yo Jong, who has accompanied him to Singapore.

Some people were grumbling in the wealthy city-state because of traffic jams caused by the summit and the cost of hosting two leaders with massive security needs.

Lee has said the summit would cost Singapore about S$20 million ($15 million), more than half of which would go on security.

“Thanks PM Lee for spending $20 million of taxpayers’ money, which can ... help a lot of needy families in Singapore to survive," posted one Facebook user. Others complained about the traffic jams downtown.

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