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Return to Panmunjom?

May 02,2018
It is good news that U.S. President Donald Trump is considering the idea of holding his summit later this month with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Panmunjom. If it happens, the symbol of the division of the Korean Peninsula can serve as a venue for a historic U.S.-North summit to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis following Friday’s inter-Korean summit there.

In the beginning, Washington came up with five options — Switzerland, Sweden, Singapore, Mongolia and Guam — before narrowing them down to Singapore and Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. The United States reportedly removed South Korea, including Jeju Island, from the list as Seoul could interfere in Trump’s negotiation with Kim.

But the atmosphere changed after Trump tweeted, “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?” Trump also said it would be a great event if his summit with Kim was held at Panmunjom.

Trump’s sudden change of mind could have been affected by the successful summit between Moon and Kim in the Peace House in Panmunjom, in which both leaders smiled and held each other’s hands at the symbol of the nation’s division. If successful, the Trump-Kim summit will be remembered as an epochal meeting that would transform the last-remaining symbol of Cold War into a monument of peace in the region. Besides such historical significance, Panmunjom also dominates other places in terms of security and accessibility.

Above all, Panmunjom is the best place for a monumental summit dedicated to the denuclearization of North Korea. In fact, a U.S.-North summit is not irrelevant to the inter-Korean summit because both seek complete denuclearization. Therefore, a summit between Trump and Kim must bear tangible results through face-to-face talks about a concrete agenda. America aims to achieve a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. South Korea is no different. Toward that common goal, both Seoul and Washington must act in a concerted way.

Kim must take his summit with Trump as the last chance to prove his sincerity. In a recent survey of U.S. senators, a whopping 80 percent showed a skeptical response to the possibility of North Korea giving up its cherished nuclear weapons. Kim must send the message that he will prioritize his people over nuclear arms.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 2, Page 30