BIG QUESTION: Where Might Trump And Kim Jong Un Meet?
By Jacqueline Alemany
AS the Trump administration rushes to put together what could be one of the most important meetings in recent history, between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, officials will have to make one crucial decision that will frame the meeting for the world: where it will be located.
It’s lost on neither of these two actors who share a brinkmanship style that beyond their material discussions, the locale can give one side or the other a home-field advantage. There are a limited number of practical options available to North Korea and the U.S.
With high-stakes outcomes — the potential to denuclearize North Korea, free American hostages, and begin to stabilize the region — President Trump may be prepared to cede a little in location. Short on resources, sanctions to maneuver around, and a fuel shortage, the North Koreans may also be interested in limiting the possible venues.
Here are some locations that may be under consideration:
It’s no surprise that the North Koreans have proposed their capital for the talks, but it’s an idea the U.S. would likely reject.
“We’ve heard that North Korea has asked for the meeting to happen in Pyongyang,” said Lisa Collins, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think the Trump administration would want it to happen there and would tell Trump not to go there, as they could use it in domestic media as propaganda — as coming to bow to the North Korean leader.”
Moreover, Pyongyang’s propaganda machine exerts its power by manipulating the environment, throwing its adversaries off balance. Former State Department official Evans Revere talked about some of the ploys he was subjected to in the late 1990s in the North Korean capital. One night, he said, at 11:30 p.m., there was a knock on his door and an order to attend a top-secret meeting. This behavior extended to top officials, too.
When then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Kim Jong Il in 2000, Revere said, she thought she would be attending a meeting. Instead, she “showed up at a stadium and walked into a massive demonstration showing support for Kim Jong Il,” says Revere. Some of the demonstrators held posters with images of ballistic missiles. Albright was roundly criticized for sitting next to Kim at the event.
Trump: Pompeo got along well with Kim Jong Un
Jung Pak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, said that she can envision Mr. Trump settling on Pyongyang, despite his advisers’ counsel — so that he would be able to lay claim to being the first sitting American president to go to North Korea.
“I can also see Kim dangling the three U.S. citizens to get Trump to come to Pyongyang to retrieve them in a spectacular, ratings-busting way,” Jung said, referring to three American citizens detained for “hostile acts,” according to North Korean authorities. At a press conference on Wednesday, Mr. Trump told reporters that the U.S. is negotiating “very hard” to get the three Americans back home.
Still, Jung has little confidence Pyongyang will be selected.
Known as the “Truce Village” along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that serves as a barrier dividing the Korean peninsula between North and South Korea, there exists a “Peace House” where the two countries will meet at the end of April for an historic inter-Korean summit. Mr. Trump attempted to visit the DMZ during his last trip to the region but had to abort the trip because of poor weather conditions. It’s also a place that Kim has already agreed to visit and presents few logistical or security challenges for Kim, since North Korea has heavy artillery along the entire border.
“It is the most heavily secured border in the entire world,” Collins said.
Not long after President Trump agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un, Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga tweeted an invitation to Trump and Kim to meet in his capital, Ulaanbaatar.
“Korean Peninsula: A long waited breakthrough! Here is an offer: US President Trump and NK leader Kim meet in UB,” he wrote, reasoning that “Mongolia is the most suitable, neutral territory. We facilitated important meetings, including between Japan and NK. Mongolia’s continuing legacy – UB dialogue on NEA.”
One national security official told CBS News Mongolia would not be a legitimate option, but Joel Wit, a Senior Fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins, thinks the White House should reconsider, given Mongolia’s rapport with the North.
“The North Koreans and Mongolians have had a very good relationship for a long time and they have a lot of exchanges of officials and government officials and at different levels — down to even think tanks,” Wit said. “Why would the U.S. agree? Why wouldn’t we? To me, it’s okay. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be okay.”
Jung Pak argues that Mongolia, although conveniently located for North Korea, would be unlikely to make the cut.
“There’s a lot of talk about Mongolia, but I think it’s not sexy or climactic enough for the president,” Jung said.
U.S. vessel off the coast of North Korea
A U.S Navy ship would allow for a closed environment that keeps away the press, but it would cause major misgivings for the North Koreans.
“I doubt the North Koreas would want that,” said a former U.S. official. “It would be a show of U.S. military force.”
The North Koreans also don’t want to put themselves into a position in which the U.S. appears stronger. The North Korean security detail would hate this idea.
“You would scream, ‘No way boss’ if you were the Kim Jong Un’s security detail, because it would put Kim Jong Un in the hands of the Americans,” says Robert Carlin, a CBS News consultant on North Korea. “But if he [Kim Jong Un] is a very bold young fellow he may say yes. He could fly on and fly off and declare victory.”
Beijing has some appeal to the North Koreans because they have a close relationship with the Chinese, but on the other hand it could also seem to diminish the North.
“I would be surprised in the North Koreans would want it there because it would look like the Chinese were sticking their nose into this thing,” says Carlin. “It makes China look like the big brother while their little brother goes to meet the Americans.”
Experts say that no matter where the meeting is, it will be bugged – but that is even more true in Beijing where the Chinese are listening to every conversation.
“It is not security by definition. The walls literally have ears in Beijing,” says Revere.
The U.S. and the North Koreans have met in Geneva before, and experts refer to it as a “neutral” territory. While it is European, which is an advantage to the U.S., Kim Jong Un would likely feel comfortable because he spent his youth in Switzerland, as did his sister, brother and deceased half brother. Switzerland is also one of just a few countries where North Koreans have diplomatic facilities. This would allow them to get their message out of the country as they see fit.
Stockholm is another option for the U.S. – North Korea meeting, since Sweden still has an embassy in Pyongyang that is in close communication with the North Koreans. The Swedes also serve as the U.S.’ protective power in the North because the U.S. does not have an embassy in the country.
North Korea’s foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho visited Stockholm in March to meet with his Swedish counterparts. There was some speculation that the talks here laid the foundation for the U.S. and North Korea to arrange a meeting.
“There has also been some talk about a Southeast Asian country that could be it,” Collins told CBS News. “Singapore or Indonesia. But Malaysia is probably off the table given that Kim’s older brother was murdered there,” Collins said, referring to the assassination of Kim Jong-nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 2017.
CREDIT: CBS News