Asia Pacific / Politics

North Korea calls Trump invite to meet Kim at DMZ over weekend 'interesting'

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

In a stunning move employing the Twitter diplomacy that he has become famous for, U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday invited North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to meet him at the border between the two Koreas over the weekend — a proposal the regime in Pyongyang called “interesting.”

“After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China, I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon),” Trump tweeted in the morning. “While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”

Trump’s invitation for what would be a third meeting came during the final day of the Group of 20 leaders summit in Osaka, where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in.

North Korea offered up a surprisingly quick response, with Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui — a powerful official known for her close ties to Kim — releasing a statement via the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

“This morning, President Trump … stated his position through Twitter that he wishes to meet and exchange greetings with Comrade Chairman of the State Affairs Commission in the Demilitarized Zone,” Choe said.

She said the North viewed the suggestion as “very interesting,” but said the regime had “not received an official proposal.”

“If the DPRK-U.S. summit meetings take place on the division line, as is intended by President Trump, it would serve as another meaningful occasion in further deepening the personal relations between the two leaders and advancing the bilateral relations,” she added, using the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Trump was previously scheduled to visit North Korea for talks with Moon and an apparent visit to the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas.

Talks on eliminating the North’s nuclear arsenal have been stalled after the second summit between Trump and Kim collapsed due to major differences over the scope of its denuclearization and potential sanctions relief by the United States.

“If he’s there we’ll meet for two minutes,” Trump said of the possible meeting with Kim at the DMZ.

“I just put out a feeler because I don’t know where he is right now,” he said. “He may not be in North Korea.”

This, however, seemed to run contrary to the evidence. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was suspiciously absent from a dinner Friday night with the top diplomats of Group of 20 nations, while the top U.S. envoy on North Korea, Stephen Biegun, was in Seoul for talks with officials there, suggesting that the possible meeting may have been more planned than spontaneous.

Biegun was quoted as saying Friday that the United States is ready to hold talks with North Korea and move their denuclearization negotiations forward in a “simultaneous and parallel” manner, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry.

Biegun “reaffirmed that (the U.S.) is ready to hold constructive talks with the North to move the commitments of the June 12 Singapore Joint Declaration between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un forward in a simultaneous and parallel manner,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to the joint document that emerged from the first Kim-Trump summit in Singapore.

It was unclear if this meant a shift in the White House’s stance, as it has insisted on a maximalist outcome — “the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea” first and foremost.

In late January, ahead of the second Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi, Biegun said the U.S. was “prepared to discuss many actions that could help build trust … and advance further progress in parallel on the Singapore summit objectives of transforming relations, establishing a permanent peace regime on the peninsula and complete denuclearization.”

Those comments had raised expectations by some observers that the Trump administration had adopted a more flexible approach. However, those hopes were dashed at the Hanoi summit, when the president and his team continued to insist on a “big deal” that saw Pyongyang give up all its nukes in exchange for sanctions relief.

Experts say Kim will never bargain away his nuclear weapons, which he views as essential to the survival of his regime.

In recent weeks, however, the two leaders have exchanged correspondence in recent months, with Trump boasting of a “beautiful” letter he received on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the pair’s first-ever summit in Singapore and Kim making the rare announcement that he, too, had received an “excellent” letter from Trump. In that announcement, which came just days before the G20 summit, Kim praised Trump’s “courage” for speaking with him.

“Appreciating the political judging faculty and extraordinary courage of President Trump, Kim Jong Un said that he would seriously contemplate the interesting content,” a report by the official Korean Central News Agency said, without detailing the contents of the letter.

Trump has repeatedly touted the North’s halt to nuclear and “large-scale” ballistic missile tests, a point he continued to hammer home on Saturday. 

“A lot of good things have happened since the days of ‘we’re in Japan.’ And I can tell you every — it seemed every week somebody was calling me to say, ‘Missiles are being shot over Japan.’” he said. “And maybe the happiest of what we’ve done are the Japanese people and our great Prime Minister Abe.”

Jean Lee, former Associated Press bureau chief in Pyongyang who now heads the Washington-based Wilson Center think tank’s Korea Program, said any potential meeting could help restart the talks between the two countries, but that more work needed to be done.

“Two minutes is long enough for a photo op — but it’s not long enough for negotiations,” Lee said, though the move “would kickstart talks on getting back to the negotiating table.”

Still, there are questions as to the U.S. president’s true motivation for seeking a meeting with Kim. If Trump were to set foot into the North, he would be the first sitting U.S. president to do so. 

“Trump clearly wants a historic moment, and stepping across the Demarcation Line into North Korean territory to shake Kim’s hand would go down in history,” Lee said. “He knows the power of drama. And perhaps he’s content with stringing Kim along for these photo ops because they allow him to claim that he has a better relationship with North Korea than any other U.S. president before him, and that does help with his re-election campaign.”

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