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Will Trump be Stood Up at DMZ? Invitation to Kim Jong Un Hangs in the Air

It all depends on Kim Jong Un, it seems, after Donald Trump on Saturday issued a public invitation for a handshake along the Korean Demilitarized Zone.


Updated:June 30, 2019, 8:45 AM IST
Will Trump be Stood Up at DMZ? Invitation to Kim Jong Un Hangs in the Air
US President Donald Trump with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi. (Image: AP/File Photo)

Washington: US President Donald Trump's third face-to-face encounter with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could occur along the Korean Demilitarized Zone on Sunday.

Or it couldn't.

It all depends on Kim, it seems, after Trump on Saturday issued a public invitation for a handshake. Whether it happens or not remains an open question, one even Trump claimed to be unable to answer after he raised the prospect in a tweet.

"If Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!" Trump wrote.

On Sunday morning, Trump said the North Koreans have indicated they do want to meet when he visits the DMZ.

"I'm going to the DMZ and we are — I understand they want to meet," Trump said during a breakfast meeting with business leaders. "And I'd love to say hello. It's going to be very short."

He stopped short of confirming such an encounter would actually occur.

"They're trying to work it out," he said. "Not so easy."

The prospect of a casual handshake between the US president and the North Korean leader along the world's most heavily fortified border would once be unthinkable. Now, the idea seems entirely in keeping with Trump's deeply personal style of diplomacy and his flair for orchestrating drama around those efforts.

Still, some diplomats even in Trump's own administration were caught off guard when he tweeted the invitation Saturday while attending the final day of the G20 summit. Trump's last meeting with Kim collapsed when the two sides could not agree on terms exchanging sanctions relief for relinquishing North Korea's nuclear arsenal. And the two sides have made little progress since.

But Trump says he's in no rush and claims to have already seen results -- both enough, in his view, for another meeting.

On Saturday, he claimed to have just come up with the idea.

"I just thought of it this morning," Trump said of his tweet. "We'll be there, and I just put out a feeler."

That didn't seem entirely truthful; Trump told The Hill newspaper earlier in the week he was planning to visit the DMZ and "might" meet Kim there, but the White House asked the paper to delay publication citing security concerns.

Instead, Trump made the announcement himself, telling reporters later in the day he'd considered the optics of proposing the meeting and having Kim not show up but went ahead anyway.

"Of course I thought of that," he said when a reporter asked if it would be interpreted as a bad sign should Kim fail to materialize at the border.

He seemed upbeat by the reception from North Korea, which called the proposal "interesting" but stopped short of accepting it, saying it didn't reflect a formal invitation.

And he clarified he wouldn't call what might transpire a "summit."

"We're not talking about extended — just a quick hello," Trump said.

It won't be the first attempt Trump makes to get to the DMZ, the heavily guarded stretch that has divided the Korean Peninsula for three-quarters of a century. He was foiled by weather last time around, in 2017. Always highly attuned to optics, Trump wasn't likely to pass up the opportunity to stare into the North from the observation platform.

Other presidents have made the same journey — all peering into the hermit kingdom through binoculars — but none have actually met the despotic leaders who rule it.

Nor has any sitting US president stepped across into the North, something Trump would not rule out on Saturday.

"Sure I would," Trump said. "I feel very comfortable doing that. I would have no problem."

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