An unidentified source told CNN on Tuesday that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has tentatively agreed to meet with President Donald Trump, and there is a “strong possibility” the summit will be held in late May in Panmunjom – the same “peace village” on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where Kim met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in last Friday.
CNN’s source is described only as “an official with deep knowledge of North Korea’s thinking on the matter.” The report does not say which government this person works for.
The source made a reasonable case for the convenience of Panmunjom to North Korea, a significant benefit since the dictator does not travel well for a variety of reasons. Also, the necessary facilities for the meeting are readily available after the work done to prepare for the Kim-Moon summit, and it would be possible for President Trump to take a historic step across the border onto North Korean soil, as President Moon did last week.
Both the U.S. and South Korean governments have also looked favorably upon Panmunjom as a possible venue for the Trump-Kim meeting. A spokesperson for South Korean President Moon noted the symbolic significance of the DMZ village as a “place to erode the divide and establish a new milestone for peace.”
In a phone call on Sunday, President Trump and Moon reportedly discussed the possibility of holding the summit there. Trump went so far as to ask the American public on Twitter what they thought of the idea:
Just had a long and very good talk with President Moon of South Korea. Things are going very well, time and location of meeting with North Korea is being set. Also spoke to Prime Minister Abe of Japan to inform him of the ongoing negotiations.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 28, 2018
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
In a press conference on Monday, Trump said of Panmunjom, “I threw it out today as an idea. There’s something I like about it because you’re there, you’re actually there – where, if things work out, there’s a great celebration to be had on the site, not in a third-party country.”
“Maybe a lot of things will change, but Kim Jong Un has been very open, very straightforward so far,” Trump added. “I can only say ‘so far,’ but he’s talking about getting rid of the site. He’s talking about no research, no launching ballistic missiles, no nuclear testing. He has lived up to that for a longer period of time than anybody has seen.”
The “site” President Trump referred to is North Korea’s nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, which a combination of Beijing’s annoyance, Mother Nature’s agony, and shoddy North Korean engineering might have already gotten rid of. However, some analysts believe North Korea could resume activity at the site unless Kim makes a verifiable commitment to shut it down for good.
Kim himself refuted the terminal prognosis offered by Chinese geologists on Sunday and claimed Punggye-ri still has “two bigger tunnels than the existing test facilities” that remain in “very good condition.” He pledged to close the site and invite inspectors from South Korea and the United States to verify it has been decommissioned.
Both President Trump and a senior U.S. official quoted by Reuters said Monday that Singapore is also a possible venue for the Trump-Kim summit.
“Some U.S. officials have argued privately that having the summit in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas would present the unwelcome appearance of Trump traveling to Kim instead of the two of them meeting at a neutral site,” Reuters observed.
Business Insider proposes an additional reason North Korea might want to hold the summit in Panmunjom: it would “sideline China,” whose relations with North Korea have become strained. Kim sent a strong signal that vexing Beijing is on his to-do list by offering to meet with Trump without demanding a halt to joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises – long a North Korean demand and the very heart of the “freeze-for-freeze” diplomatic strategy China has been pushing with monomaniacal determination for many years.
“Beijing is committed to the eventual exit of the US military from the Korean Peninsula – and from the Asia Pacific writ large – so the willingness of Kim to meet without a first step toward a reduction in the US presence could not have made Beijing happy,” Asia studies director Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations told BI.
“China is desperate to remain relevant in this process of potential denuclearisation and reunification. It was taken aback by the decision of Kim and Trump to meet and unhappy about the lack of preconditions on the North Korean side,” she elaborated. “It very much wants to host the meeting between Kim and Trump as a means of playing a significant role in the process and ensuring that its interests are not ignored.”