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Mongolia, Singapore on shortlist of summit hosts

Apr 25,2018
Mongolia and Singapore are on the shortlist of locations for a widely anticipated summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a source with knowledge of the decision told the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday.

“European countries such as Switzerland and Sweden were mentioned up until now, but they have been excluded because it was determined to be difficult for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to physically get there,” the source said. “The United States and North Korea are holding final negotiations to choose between Singapore and Mongolia.”

The decision could be reached as early as this week, the source said, but at the request of Pyongyang, an official announcement might be pushed off until details including the date and agenda are finalized. Trump and Kim are expected to meet in May or June in the first summit between an American and North Korean leader.

According to the source, the European countries are difficult to reach nonstop aboard the Chammae-1, a private North Korean jet converted from a Soviet aircraft. While the plane could have a layover, Pyongyang was said to have not desired this.

The 1970s-era Chammae-1 can only fly stably for up to around 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles). Stockholm, which was under consideration, is around 7,200 kilometers from Pyongyang, and Zurich is about 8,500 kilometers away.

“North Korea hasn’t let go of its attachment to holding the summit in Pyongyang,” the source said, “but in the case where the United States doesn’t want this at all, it has come around to the idea of reviewing Mongolia as a location. North Korea has the notion that Mongolia is a friendly country.”

Sandwiched between China and Russia, Mongolia has hosted so-called track-1.5 talks involving current North Korean officials and academics from Western countries. It is an especially desirable location for North Korea because Kim can travel there by rail on his bulletproof train.

While the United States has friendly relations with Mongolia, it has pointed to inadequate infrastructure in the capital of Ulan Bator and is pushing for Singapore.

“The U.S. government had excluded countries with personal interests from the list of candidates, including South Korea, Japan and China, and afterward looked for Southeast Asian countries that simultaneously met various conditions, which is why Singapore was selected,” the source said.

This suggests Singapore best fulfills Washington’s standard in terms of infrastructure and security - and Trump’s desire to have a glamorous location for the first U.S.-North summit.

“Since President Trump desires to leave his historic mark through the North-U.S. summit, he wants a country that can best draw the attention of the entire world,” another source close to the White House said. “Based on that criteria, Mongolia could be a choice that does not satisfy Trump.”

Singapore is also a relatively neutral country with a North Korean and American embassy. A flight from Pyongyang to Singapore takes around 6 hours and 30 minutes, and the distance is 4,700 kilometers, within the range of the Chammae-1.

The Trump administration has put great significance on selecting a venue for this historic summit. South Korean locations such as the border village of Panmunjom, Seoul and Jeju were ruled out because they are “already being publicized through the inter-Korean summit” scheduled for Friday, another source close to the White House said, and Trump doesn’t want to appear to hand over leadership on the North Korea issue to South Korea.

BY KIM HYUN-KI, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]