Secretary of State Mike Pompeo teased the possibility of renewed talks with North Korea’s rogue communist regime Sunday after rumors began to swirl of a potential President Donald Trump visit to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) during his trip to South Korea next week.
Seoul’s Blue House confirmed that Trump would visit South Korea following his stop in Japan for the annual G-20 summit. Several newspapers, citing anonymous officials, have since reported that the White House is attempting to schedule a visit to the DMZ for the president, most likely to the border village of Panmunjom, where North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has met South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in on multiple occasions.
The governments of the United States, North Korea, and South Korea have all not commented on the potential visit, a first since President Ronald Reagan’s visit to the DMZ in 1983.
In remarks on Sunday, Pompeo said that Washington had been “working to lay the foundations for” more dialogue with North Korea since talks between dictator Kim Jong-un and Trump collapsed in February. That month, both traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam, for an in-person summit on implementing policies to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
The United States typically defines “denuclearization” as an end to North Korea’s illegal nuclear weapons program; North Korea typically defines it as the complete removal of U.S. troops from the region, as America is a nuclear power. President Trump walked out of his summit with Kim a day early, telling reporters that the North Koreans wanted sanctions lifted without denuclearizing, making negotiation impossible. Subsequent reports suggested that Kim was also seeking official recognition as a nuclear power and for Trump to send “famous basketball players” to North Korea for his entertainment. North Korean diplomats claimed Trump was lying, and Kim himself accused Trump of acting in “bad faith” during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in April.
“We have been working to lay the foundations for [renewed talks] since Hanoi,” Pompeo said on Sunday, according to South Korean newswire service Yonhap. “We think we’re in a better place, and I think the remarks you saw out of North Korea this morning suggest that that may well be a very real possibility.”
On Sunday morning, Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s official state newspaper, published an article announcing that Kim had received a personal letter from Trump.
“After reading the letter, the Supreme Leader of the Party, the state and the armed forces said with satisfaction that the letter is of excellent content,” Rodong Sinmun stated. “Appreciating the political judging faculty and extraordinary courage of President Trump, Kim Jong Un said that he would seriously contemplate the interesting content.”
The newspaper also published a photo of Kim sitting at a desk reading his letter:
Trump’s letter is believed to be a response to a letter Kim sent the White House in early June.
Pompeo said the Americans were “ready to go” for more negotiations.
Seoul confirmed on Monday that Trump will spend two days in South Korea and meet with leftist President Moon Jae-in, presumably to discuss, in part, the tense relations between the United States and North Korea.
The two presidents “[plan to] have in-depth discussions on methods for close coordination between the two nations for the establishment of permanent peace through the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, while further solidifying the South Korea-U.S. alliance,” Ko Min-jung, a Moon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday.
Ko said there was no official plan for Trump to visit Panmunjom, following the publication of multiple international reports hinting that such a visit would happen. She allowed for one, however, by stating that Trump’s full itinerary had not yet been finalized, meaning it could change to accommodate this request if possible.
Citing Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo reported on Monday that Trump “wants to deliver a speech in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas when he visits Seoul this weekend.” Reuters cited an anonymous South Korean official telling them that Trump had considered a DMZ trip in 2017, but weather constraints kept it from materializing. South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo added the possibility that Kim may also travel to Panmunjom for an impromptu summit, though it cited “experts” speculating on the matter, not anonymous South Korean government officials.
The South Korean government has confirmed that Moon Jae-in would not travel to the DMZ if a Trump-Kim summit there did materialize.
A potential meeting between Trump and Kim would follow the latter’s welcoming of Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping to Pyongyang last week for talks in which Xi reportedly vowed to support North Korea through the ongoing international sanctions that China voted to implement on the country in 2017. Trump is also expected to meet with Xi in person in Japan during the G-20 summit to discuss their two countries’ ongoing trade dispute. It remains unclear if Trump and Xi will discuss tensions with North Korea.