President Donald Trump said Saturday that he would visit the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea on Sunday, and he publicly invited Kim Jong Un, the North’s iron-fisted leader, to meet him there for what would be their third get-together.
In a post on Twitter as he started the second of two days of meetings in Osaka, Trump said that during his next stop, in South Korea, he would be happy to greet Kim across the line that has divided Korea for nearly 75 years.
“I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon),” the tweet said. “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(?)!”
After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China, I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). 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(?)!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2019
North Korea indicated Saturday it would welcome such a meeting.
“I consider this a very interesting suggestion, but we have not received any official proposal,” Choe Son-hui, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, said in a brief statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
“I believe that if a North Korea-U.S. summit is realized on the line dividing Korea, as President Trump wishes, it will become another opportunity to deepen the friendship that exists between the two heads of state and to improve relations of the two nations,” Choe said.
Trump’s tweet caught the diplomatic corps in Asia and the president’s own advisers off balance, since the last meeting between the two leaders, in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, ended in dramatic failure, and no further substantive talks have taken place. No serious preparations have been made for an encounter Sunday.
But Trump likes to be unpredictable and has made clear repeatedly in recent days that he is eager to restart negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to eliminate its nuclear arsenal. He told reporters that Saturday’s tweet was spontaneous. “I just thought of it this morning,” he said. “We’ll be there, and I just put out a feeler.”
In reality, he had been toying with the idea for days. The Hill, a Capitol Hill news organization, reported Saturday after his tweet that Trump had signaled his interest in the idea during an interview Monday, saying he “might” try to meet with Kim during an already planned but secret trip to the DMZ. The White House asked that his comment not be reported because of security concerns.
Trump flew to Seoul late Saturday afternoon and was to have dinner with President Moon Jae-in, a strong proponent of diplomacy with North Korea. His DMZ visit would take place Sunday before he flies back to Washington.
Moon’s office issued a statement supporting more contact with Kim without confirming any meeting this weekend. “Nothing has been decided, but our position remains unchanged that we want dialogue to happen between North Korea and the U.S.,” the statement said.
Experts on the region said Trump’s flair for theater was not a substitute for a serious negotiation strategy. “It’s like ‘The Bachelor,’” said Michael Green, who was President George W. Bush’s Asia adviser. “But North Korea has stated clearly it will only denuclearize part of its weapons program, and this won’t change any of that even if they do shake hands.”