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U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted from the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Osaka on Saturday morning, publicly proposing Kim Jong Un meet him at the Demilitarized Zone on Sunday. North Korea’s first vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui quickly said the idea was “interesting” and that any meeting would be “meaningful,” but said Pyongyang had not yet “received an official proposal in this regard.”
While it therefore now appears the ball is in Washington’s court to formalize the invitation, the prospect for a sudden Sunday meeting is growing stronger. But following months of stalemate between the two sides after the collapse of the Hanoi summit, what can an eleventh-hour meeting now achieve?
NK Pro analysts from Korea Risk Group largely agreed that any Sunday meeting would be unlikely to lead to any major outcomes, but that it could help reset communications between the two countries in a positive manner.
Dr. Andrei Lankov, a Director at Korea Risk Group, said the potential for a Sunday meeting was not surprising.
“While the President tries to create an impression that we are dealing with improvisation, in recent days there was a feeling that something of this kind was about to happen, so some consultations and talks have certainly taken place,” he said.
“However, this impromptu summit will consequently be poorly prepared, and so I can not see how either side can achieve much at such an excessively informal meeting,” Lankov continued.
“So, if Kim meets Trump, it will be good news, since it will show that talks are likely to continue.”
“Nonetheless, it is a long way to any meaningful compromise which would satisfy both sides,” he said. “And, as I am never tired of repeating, this compromise will not include denuclearization as usually understood in the U.S. and West.”
Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with Korea Risk Group, said the way North Korea had responded to Trump’s early Saturday invitation was notable.
“Kim Jong Un is playing it very smart by putting the ball in Trump’s court while acknowledging Trump’s tweet positively and in a timely manner,” she said. “This way, even if the DMZ meeting doesn’t happen, neither he nor Trump loses anything and they’re still on good terms.”
But in the event it does occur, Lee said it “likely will not yield any substantial outcome,” given that “there still appears to be a considerable gap between the two sides on denuclearization.”
“A DMZ meeting, however, would have a symbolic significance: it shows to the outside world that the two countries are on track to resuming nuclear dialogue,” Lee continued.
“On Kim’s part, it is another good opportunity to show off to his people, including those who may harbor skepticism about his diplomatic overtures, that he is rubbing shoulders with the world’s most powerful leader.”
Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, said that while any meeting on Sunday would likely be ceremonial in nature, that American concessions towards the North should not be ruled out.
“There’s a three-hour window on Trump’s schedule on Sunday afternoon, meaning after traveling by helicopter back and forth to the DMZ, Trump will realistically have around an hour or 90 minutes maximum with Kim Jong Un,” O’Carroll said.
“I’m therefore expecting a mostly ceremonial photo-op meeting between the two leaders, likely accompanied by President Moon Jae-in, with some short time for bilateral and private U.S.-DPRK discussion,” he continued.
“But it’s also possible that we’ll see Trump step across into the northern side of the military demarcation line, which would make him the first U.S. President to step into North Korean territory.”
“In terms of substance, any meeting on Sunday will most likely focus on securing a top-down endorsement for the rejuvenation of U.S.-DPRK talks, stalled now for over four months in the wake of the Hanoi summit. It could also help re-integrate President Moon into the process, who has been badly maligned in recent months by the North Korean side.”
However, O’Carroll said it may also be possible that some limited concessions could be announced, too.
“We’ve been hearing of increased appetite from Washington in recent days surrounding the reopening of parts of Kaesong as a goodwill gesture to reboot dialogue, for example.”
In addition, he said it is likely that if Trump delivers any remarks at the Joint Security Area (JSA), North Korea’s economic potential will be a key subject.
“One likely option could be a speech delivered there with a constructive and amiable tone, including references to identifying a path forward from recent U.S.-DPRK summits, and lots of focus on the vast economic prospects of North Korea.”
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