US President Donald Trump last week took the world by surprise as he announced his wish to meet North Korea’s supreme leader and — until then — Washington’s archenemy Kim Jong-un, after months of threatening war against each other.
In a possible bid to avoid a cataclysmic nuclear war, the President looks to have opted for a diplomatic summit to be held by May, and his decision has since then sparked speculation regarding the location of the meeting.
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Although a public confirmation from Pyongyang is yet to arrive, officials and analysts have been discussing what sites are most likely to host the summit, which will be crucial in determining Kim’s intentions on his nuclear programme and will determine the relationship between the two superpowers.
Among the options are both the US capital Washington and the North Korean capital Pyongyang, though rumours seem to suggest that a more neutral location could suit either party better, with the Joint Security Area (JSA) between the two Koreas and other sites across Europe and Asia topping the list.
Here are some of the areas discussed.
The Joint Security Area, Panmunjom
The Joint Security Area marking the Military Demarcation Line between North Korea and South Korea has one of the highest chances to host such a delicate and crucial meeting.
According to an official with South Korea’s presidential Blue House, “Places like Switzerland, Sweden or Jeju Island have been gaining a lot of attention, but we also view the JSA as a serious option”.
Other than the Demilitarised Zone, the JSA is the only place where North Korean troops stand face-to-face with South Korean and United Nations Command forces.
It would allow the two leaders to meet each other while being close to their security forces and not have to travel to the enemy’s capital.
In April, the JSA will host the first ever meeting between Kim Jong-un and the South Korean President Moon Jae-in, as officials identify it as an equally good candidate for Trump’s encounter with Kim.
The Blue House said:
If North Korea and the U.S., who are the directly involved parties of the truce agreement, hold the summit at Panmunjom, it would hold the significant meaning of turning a symbol of division into one of peace.
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Professor John Delury at Yonsei University, who led a discussion of possible summit locations on Twitter, sees the Jeju Island a very likely site for the summit.
He told Reuters:
In Korea, I’m sticking with Jeju Island. Jeju has soul, born of tragedy, and beauty and nature.
Located near the southern coast, the Jeju Island is a scenic and quiet piece of land that hosted ‘peace and prosperity’ events in the past and can only be reached by boat or plane.
This might have been a problem for Kim’s father and predecessor Kim Jong Il, who was terrified of flying, but it would not apply to the current North Korean leader as he has often been pictured getting off aeroplanes and even flying ones.
Jeju’s governor said in a statement:
As the ‘Island of Peace’, Jeju is the ideal place to hold the North Korea-US summit
Somewhere in Europe
Politically neutral European countries like Switzerland and Sweden could be the designated sites for the meeting. Both previously acted as mediators in the past and have been members of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission that handled negotiations between the two Koreas after the 1953 armistice.
Kim and his siblings attended an elite private school in Switzerland during the 1990s, though this period of his life has never been officially confirmed and there are good chances that he would rather avoid travelling to the West.
According to the Swiss foreign ministry, talks are being held with both countries to evaluate the option of hosting the summit and the country is keen on acting as a mediator in these circumstances.
The ministry said in a statement:
It is up to the parties involved to decide if, when and where the talks will be held.
Sweden is equally in touch with North Korea and the US, as local media claim that North Korea’s foreign minister is expected to visit soon.
On Saturday, the Swedish Prime Minister told reporters to be keen on helping “in any way”.
Somewhere in Asia
Beijing, Singapore, Hanoi and Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia all stand high chances to host the summit, being close to and easy to reach for Kim.
In the past, Ulaanbaatar often welcomed sensitive negotiations regarding North Korea and would work well as a neutral ground since it has no political conflicts with either country.
The Chinese capital previously supported North Korea’s causes and hosted multilateral negotiations regarding North Korea since 2003, with meetings attended by several political powers, such as China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the US.
Yet according to analysts, Trump is unlikely to travel to China and give one of its major political rivals grab all the attention.
The North Korean capital, Pyongyang, or the US capital Washington
The North Korean capital may have a big shot. According to public records, Kim Jong-un has not left his motherland since 2011 and is probably unwilling to depart from it anytime soon.
Pyongyang often was the designated area for talks between North Korea and the US, having hosted a meeting between US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Kim Jong Il, as well as welcomed former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
But the past two years have taught that Trump is nothing like his predecessor and would probably be against travelling to Pyongyang. A visit to North Korea would appear as an endorsement and be criticised by American officials.
The same applies to Kim, who may not be comfortable with flying to Washington and certainly does not wish to give his country the wrong impression.