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Trump suggests a third Kim summit is possible

June 27,2019
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday fueled speculation that a third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may be possible, telling reporters that another meeting will happen “at some point.”

Speaking to reporters in the White House Oval Office, Trump said “maybe there was” mention of a third summit in letters he exchanged with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in recent weeks. The president received a missive from Kim on June 11 which on Tuesday he said contained a birthday greeting. (Trump’s birthday was June 14.) On Sunday, North Korean state media said that Kim had received a response from Trump, which Kim said had “excellent content.”

Trump went on to say to reporters that he was “getting along very well” with Kim, adding that Pyongyang was not conducting nuclear testing in accordance with the country’s self-imposed moratorium on such tests.

“When I took over, as you know, I became president (…) they were testing so much, they were doing ballistic tests and nuclear tests (…) we had a lot of things going wrong,” he said. “The relationship [with the North now] is a far different relationship than it was during the Obama years where you were going to end up with a war.”

Trump’s comments mirrored remarks he made in the White House Rose Garden on June 14, in which he said former U.S. President Barack Obama told him that he “was so close to starting a big war with North Korea.”

The president’s continued touting of his diplomatic accomplishments in regards to Pyongyang and the warm epistolary exchanges this month sparked speculation that he may be considering a meeting with Kim on a visit to South Korea this weekend, during which he could visit the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

On Monday, South Korea’s former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said he had heard that Trump may visit the DMZ on Sunday afternoon, during which he could meet Kim on the northern side of Panmunjom. A senior presidential aide at the Blue House, however, denied that there would be a three-way meeting between Trump, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, while a senior U.S. administration official chimed in on Monday by saying Trump had no plans to hold a third summit with the North in his trip to Seoul.

Panmunjom, located in the Joint Security Area of the DMZ, was the venue of Moon’s first summit with North Korean leader Kim on April 27, 2018. Moon and Kim held a second summit in Panmunjom a month later in the wake of Trump’s abrupt cancellation of his scheduled first summit with Kim, which eventually took place as scheduled in Singapore on June 12.

Despite the lack of confirmation from officials and the low likelihood of a meeting with Kim, experts believe Trump may follow through with a trip to the DMZ to nonetheless convey a fresh message to Pyongyang. The North has been demanding that Washington show a “changed calculus” in its approach to denuclearization negotiations.

Diplomatic sources in South Korea told the JoongAng Ilbo that Trump may use a visit to Panmunjom, which he originally planned to visit on his first official trip to Korea in November 2017, to advertise his diplomatic accomplishments in regards to the Korean Peninsula ahead of his campaign for reelection in 2020. Trump’s trip to Osaka, Japan, to attend a Group of 20 (G-20) summit on Friday to Saturday is set to overlap with the opposition U.S. Democratic Party’s first public debate for its presidential candidates, and the president may hope to deflect media attention away from his rivals.

Yet a DMZ visit by Trump may not be enough to allay the North’s dissatisfaction with the United States’ negotiation approach, particularly Washington’s insistence on keeping sanctions on its economy intact until significant steps have been made in terms of denuclearization.

On Wednesday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry released a statement in which it said that neither its denuclearization nor an improvement in bilateral relations with the United States were possible unless “policymakers whose brains are filled with hatred towards [North Korea]” continue to control U.S. politics. The statement specifically mentioned U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]