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Former U.S. ambassador to Singapore: 'Unlikely' we will pay for North Korea at summit

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

The venue for the Trump-Kim summit has been confirmed to be the Capella Singapore, a luxury resort on the island of Sentosa in Singapore. But with rates from $500 to $7,500 per night for a presidential manor, how is the heavily sanctioned North Korean regime going to pay for it?

The short answer is that the Hermit Kingdom probably won’t, especially if history is any guide.

The Capella hotel has more than 100 rooms and its villas face the South China Sea. It was restored in part from 19th century British colonial buildings that used to house British officers belonging to the Royal Artillery and their families in the 1880s. (Photo: Capella Singapore via AP)

‘We’re not paying for their expenses’

So will the Trump administration foot the bill? The Washington Post recently reported that “the United States is open to covering the costs … but it’s mindful that Pyongyang may view a U.S. payment as insulting.” Furthermore, there is the issue of U.S. sanctions.

“It is unlikely the United States will cover North Korea’s expenses,” former U.S. Ambassador to Singapore David Adelman said in an email interview with Yahoo Finance. “Doing so likely would require a waiver of strict sanctions in place. Perhaps more importantly, to have the United States cover North Korea’s expenses might be considered a loss of face, which North Korea would want to avoid.”

The U.S. State Department also dismissed the idea of the United States paying for North Korea’s expenses. However, the State Department isn’t making the decisions.

“We’re not paying for their expenses,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. “The White House has spoken to this as well. The State Department is not involved in every single technical detail of this meeting. This is largely being planned out of the White House, with State Department support.”

A promotional poster outside a Singapore eatery, Harmony Nasi Lemak, which offers a special Trump Kim-Chi dish on its menu on June 6, 2018. (Photo: Ore Huiying/Getty Images)

‘Benefits of hosting the summit clearly outweigh the costs’

All things considered, it’s most likely that the host nation will handle most of the bill.

“It is a cost that we’re willing to bear to play a small part in this historic meeting,” Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen told reporters last weekend. Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said that the country is “happy to play [its] part for world peace.”

Adelman noted that “it would be unsurprising for Singapore to cover North Korea’s expenses” and explained how the small country would benefit.

“Singapore’s role as host of the summit comes with significant expenses, including extensive security measures,” Adelman said. “For Singapore, the benefits of hosting the summit clearly outweigh the costs. Singapore understands the value of being a good global citizen. Hosting the summit further develops Singapore’s reputation as a place where East meets West.”

Ja Ian Chong, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, added that “in the grand scheme of things, for the gains [made by hosting the summit], the financial amount is something that the Singapore state can easily absorb. Hotels and other hospitality services can earn back some of the costs.” 

Singapore has maintained diplomatic relations with North Korea for a long time. The country had until recently been North Korea’s sixth-largest trading partner. It also hosts a small North Korean Embassy. The city-state’s close relations to the North Korean government are among the reasons why it was chosen to be the venue of the peace talks.