US President Donald Trump has revealed that he would like to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the demilitarised zone separating North and South Korea for a much-anticipated upcoming summit.
Last week the president said that the location for the unprecedented meeting, the first time a sitting US president will meet a North Korean leader, had been narrowed down to two or three locations. Reports name Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital, or Singapore as possible options.
However, Mr Trump made his own preference clear in a tweet on Monday, suggesting that the Peace House in the truce village of Panmunjom, where Kim met South Korean leader Moon Jae-in for a historic summit last Friday, could be a good location.
“Numerous countries are being considered for the MEETING, but would Peace House/Freedom House, on the border of North & South Korea, be a more Representative, Important and Lasting site than a third party country? Just asking!” he said.
Expectations are building for the high stakes summit, scheduled for late May or early June, after a successful meeting between Kim and Mr Moon, during which the two leaders hugged and committed to working towards “complete denuclearisation” and a peace treaty.
Numerous countries are being considered for the MEETING, but would Peace House/Freedom House, on the Border of North & South Korea, be a more Representative, Important and Lasting site than a third party country? Just asking!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2018
Their efforts were widely praised for setting a positive tone ahead of talks with Mr Trump, but President Moon argued modestly on Monday that it was the US president who deserved a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end an international standoff with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons programme.
His suggestion came in response to a congratulatory message from Lee Hee-ho, the widow of late President Kim Dae-Jung, in which she said Mr Moon deserved to win the prize in recognition of his efforts, said an official from the presidential Blue House in Seoul.
Mr Dae-Jung won a Nobel himself for his role in the first summit between North and South Korea in 2000, which he achieved by championing the so-called Sunshine policy of engagement with North Korea. There have only been two more summits since, including last Friday’s meeting.
But Mr Moon deflected the praise. “President Trump can take the Nobel prize. All we need to take is peace,” he told his senior aides.
Kim could meet Japan’s Shinzo Abe
On Monday it was also revealed that Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, and Kim are exploring a possible meeting to discuss the abduction of Japanese nationals and Pyongyang’s pledge to move towards denuclearisation.
Kim told Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, on Friday that he was "ready for dialogue with Japan at any time." The message was relayed by Mr Moon in a phone call to Mr Abe on Sunday.
South Korean intelligence chief, Suh Hoon, also debriefed the Japanese leader about the inter-Korean summit, during a visit to Tokyo. Mr Abe had expressed "deep interest", he later told reporters.
Mr Abe is now expected to start taking steps towards arranging the suggested bilateral Tokyo-Pyongyang summit.
Before leaving on a five-day Middle East tour, he thanked Mr Moon for his “sincerity” for keeping his word to raise the long-standing and sensitive issue of Japanese abductions with Kim.
“Since it was we who changed the time standard, we will return to the original one. You can make it public,” Kim was quoted as saying by Mr Moon’s chief press secretary Yoon Young-chan. His decision was backed by North Korea’s leadership on Monday.
State newswire, KCNA, reported that the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly had decreed that the change would be “the first practical step for national reconciliation and unity.”
The move will precede a more dramatic pledge by Kim to dismantle his country’s main nuclear testing site, Punggye-ri, at a later date in May, in full view of South Korean and US experts.
Both decisions appear to be part of a determined recent effort by Kim to transform his international image from reclusive, war-mongering dictator to that of an international statesman committed to pursuing peace.
Panmunjom – locator map
“Pyongyang Time” was created in 2015 as a swipe at Japan, to cast off the legacy of “Japanese imperialists.” It was enforced on August 15, to mark the 70th anniversary of the country’s independence from Japanese rule at the end of World War II.
The proposed meeting with Mr Abe is a sign of rapidly shifting diplomacy in East Asia, and one of several key meetings likely to take place over the next few months.
China will also send the government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, to visit North Korea on Wednesday and Thursday, it’s foreign ministry announced on Monday.
Friday’s extraordinary meeting, heavy on the symbolism of renewed friendship but short on fresh policy decisions, prompted a mixed response from US officials over the weekend.
Panmunjom – North Korea
National Security Adviser John Bolton, a known sceptic towards North Korea, told Fox News that the Trump administration was not “starry-eyed” over Kim’s recent promises, adding that Washington was not ready to ease sanctions before Pyongyang fully committed to denuclearisation.
Mr Bolton said the US had the “Libya model” in mind, referring to a 2003 agreement that resulted in the country relinquishing its nuclear weapons.
The location of a future summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump was still under negotiation, he said. “But if, in fact, Kim has made a strategic decision to give up his entire nuclear weapons programme, then I think deciding on the place and date should be fairly easy,” he added.
Meanwhile newly appointed secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who met personally with Kim over Easter while still CIA chief, told ABC news that the US had an obligation to find a peaceful diplomatic solution to North Korea’s nuclear weapons issue.
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He said he saw a “real opportunity” for progress since meeting with Kim, adding that they had a "good conversation" on the "hardest issues that face our two countries."
The North Korean leader was "prepared" to "lay out a map that would help us achieve that objective," he said, referring to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.