Singapore has become the most likely site for a landmark summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in mid-June, reports have said, as the two nations move closer to formally announcing a date and location.
Trump is due to meet Kim to discuss the North’s nuclear weapons program in the first-ever meeting of sitting leaders from the two countries, with the U.S. president saying Friday that the two sides had decided on a time and place.
“We now have a date and we have a location. We’ll be announcing it soon,” Trump said Friday without providing details.
The U.S. president had previously voiced an interest in holding the talks at the border village of Panmunjom in South Korea, which hosted last month’s inter-Korean summit, after seeing media coverage of the pageantry surrounding that event.
But it now appears that Singapore has emerged as the all-but-formally announced site, with a “mid-June” date penciled in, South Korea’s mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo daily reported Monday, citing diplomatic sources who quoted Trump national security adviser John Bolton.
Bolton met his South Korean counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, in Washington on Friday for discussions on the upcoming summit.
The newspaper also suggested that the possibility of Singapore playing host to the talks had grown significantly after a decision by Trump to have South Korean President Moon Jae-in visit the White House on May 22. The report did not give further explanation.
The South’s Yonhap news agency carried a similar report. Citing multiple diplomatic sources, it said that the odds had appeared to have shifted from Panmunjom to Singapore.
“As for the summit location, the possibility of Panmunjom, originally considered to be the leading contender, has fallen,” a source knowledgeable of planning for the event said.
While lacking the symbolism of Panmunjom, Singapore would provide the two countries with a middle-ground location for both parties that is also sufficient in terms of media access and alleviating security concerns.
Observers have said that holding the summit in Panmunjom would run the risk of shifting the focus from the more immediate U.S. concern of denuclearization to securing a peace deal for the Korean Peninsula. Any summit at the border village could also divert the spotlight from the attention-hungry Trump to Moon, who has solidified a role as a mediator in the process.
Still, given Trump’s unpredictability, the possibility remains that he could change course and decide he would prefer to meet in Panmunjom.
“Panmunjom is set up, logistically and theatrically, as the obvious choice,” Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Australia, wrote on the think tank’s blog. “The fact that it was also the backdrop for the inter-Korean summit last month is perhaps the main factor counting against it.”
But Graham, a former British diplomat who served in Pyongyang, noted that “Trump is clearly curious to see North Korea up-close.” The U.S. leader attempted to visit the Demilitarized Zone by helicopter last November during his visit to the South, but the trip was halted by poor visibility.
As for Singapore, Graham noted the city-state’s growing reputation as a “hub” for regional diplomacy, as well as the timing of holding the event next month — it is due to host the Shangri-La Dialogue, a major annual inter-governmental security forum from June 1-3, meaning much of the U.S. defense, intelligence, and national security hierarchy will be present.
But “it is also familiar ground for the North Koreans,” according to Graham, having hosted earlier track-2, or backchannel, talks involving officials from the country.
Other possible sites reportedly include Mongolia and Switzerland.
On Sunday, the North said its intention to denuclearize, unveiled at the inter-Korean summit, was not the result of U.S.-led sanctions and pressure, warning the United States not to mislead public opinion, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
Trump has said that it was the U.S.-led “maximum pressure” campaign that has brought the North to the negotiating table.
The North’s state-run media also took a jab at Japan, with the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, blasting Tokyo — one of the staunchest backers of Trump’s pressure campaign — for its stance.
Japan “will never be able to set foot on (North Korea’s) sacred land, even in 100 million years,” the paper said in an online commentary.
South Korea’s presidential Blue House said on April 29 that Kim was ready to hold talks with Japan at “any time.” The Rodong Sinmun commentary, however, said that Japan must first shift its stance on maintaining pressure on the North.