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Trump hints at a summit in Panmunjom

U.S. president foresees ‘a great celebration to be had on the site’
May 02,2018
이미지뷰
Left: On Twitter on Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump mentioned Peace House and Freedom House in Panmunjom as possible venues for his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Right: South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un jointly announce the Panmunjom Declaration in front of Peace House on April 27 after a summit meeting there. [YONHAP]
U.S. President Donald Trump fueled expectations that his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could take place in Panmunjom, the border village that straddles the inter-Korean border, saying, “There’s a great celebration to be had on the site.”

During a news briefing in the Rose Garden on Monday, local time, the real estate mogul-turned-president indicated his understanding of the historic significance of holding what will be the first summit meeting between the leaders of North Korea and the United States in the demilitarized zone, which would be absent from a summit in an unrelated country like Singapore.

“There’s something I like about it [holding the summit in Panmunjom], because you’re there, if things work out there’s a great celebration to be had on the site, not in a third-party country,” said Trump.

Trump seems to be hoping to strike a historic deal to rid the North of its nuclear arsenal at the place where an armistice was signed 65 years ago halting the 1950-53 Korean War but not ending it, leaving the two Koreas technically at war for a total of 68 years.

But Trump acknowledged that some people have expressed reservations about having a meeting at the border village, saying, “Some people maybe don’t like the look of that.”

Trump’s remarks in the Rose Garden came hours after he floated the idea of having the summit meeting at Panmunjom on Twitter, writing. “Numerous countries are being considered for the MEETING,” the president wrote, “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? Just asking!”

Trump’s tweet asking for opinions drew nearly 20,000 replies as of Tuesday, with one person saying, “Yes. If all parties are safe. What better place?”

Countries such as Mongolia and Singapore have been raised as possible summit venues in recent weeks. There were doubts that Kim could travel further due to the limits of North Korea’s aircraft.

Trump’s recent remarks signal a shift in tone for Washington toward having Panmunjom as the summit venue out of concerns that the scene of Trump coming to the DMZ to meet with Kim could give the North Korean leader a propaganda boon.

Panmunjom was earlier considered too dull-looking to fulfill Trump’s desire for some kind of spectacle at the summit with Kim, with whom he traded threats of nuclear war just months earlier. He warned he could “totally destroy” North Korea in a speech at the United Nations last September.

But dramatic images from last Friday’s summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Panmunjom - including Moon’s brief, unplanned crossing over to the northern side of the Military Demarcation Line - may have given Trump reasons to select Panmunjom.

If the summit is held there, it could be held on the North Korean side or Trump could make a conciliatory gesture similar to Moon’s. Either would make him the first serving U.S. president in history to step foot on North Korean soil. Two ex-presidents have traveled to North Korea: Jimmy Carter in 1994, 2010 and 2011 and Bill Clinton in 2009.

The Blue House welcomed Trump’s remarks Tuesday as it was hoping the Trump-Kim meeting would be held in Panmunjom.

“I think Panmunjom carries a significant meaning as a summit venue to resolve the division [of the two Koreas] and set in place a new milestone for peace,” said a senior Blue House official speaking on the condition of anonymity, adding Panmunjom was the “most symbolic place” to have such a historic meeting.

Having the Pyongyang-Washington summit at Panmunjom would benefit Seoul, said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute specializing in North Korea affairs. If Trump stays in Seoul before and after the Panmunjom summit, he noted, Moon and Trump could have more in-depth coordination and could communicate on the outcome of the summit immediately afterwards. “It goes in the right direction for the Korea-U.S. partnership in North Korea policy,” he said.

A senior Blue House official said speaking on the condition of anonymity if the Trump-Kim summit takes place at Panmunjom, a trilateral summit involving Moon, Kim and Trump could be held subsequently there, a meeting that was unthinkable just months ago.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]