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Trump’s DMZ gambit with Kim aims to restart nuclear talks

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last met at an unfruitful summit in Hanoi. | Vietnam News Agency/Handout/Getty Images

foreign policy

Trump tweeted out the invitation, telling reporters he had ‘just thought’ of extending the invitation ‘this morning.’

Updated

OSAKA, Japan — President Donald Trump is making an unconventional gambit to restart nuclear negotiations with North Korea, inviting dictator Kim Jong Un to meet him Sunday at the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea.

Kim didn’t immediately accept the last-minute offer, but Trump said he would go to the heavily fortified border regardless, and just may step across into North Korea territory while there.

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“I understand we may be meeting with Chairman Kim,” Trump said at a news conference. “We won’t call it a summit. We’ll call it a handshake. It could happen. He would like to do it, and I wouldn’t mind doing it at all.”

Trump’s invitation took world leaders, and even some of his own advisers, by surprise. Indeed, the president claimed that he had only come up with the concept hours before tweeting it out. And goodwill between the two counties has also cooled since Trump cut short his second summit with Kim Jong Un in February, putting a freeze on months of nuclear negotiations.

North Korea welcomed the request but said it was waiting for an official proposal. “I consider this a very interesting suggestion, but we have not received any official proposal,” said Choe Son-hui, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, in a statement carried on the official Korean News Agency.

Trump arrived in South Korea Saturday night after two days in Japan meeting with world leaders at the G-20 summit, a gathering of the world’s 20 biggest economies. He is meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss ways to restart nuclear talks with North Korea. Pyongyang appeared open to the prospect, whether or not the two leaders meet Sunday.

“I believe that if a North-U.S. summit is realized on the line dividing Korea, as President Trump wishes, it will become another opportunity to deepen the friendship that exists between the two heads of state and to improve relations of the two nations,” Choe said.

Despite Trump’s insistence that he had only thought of sending the invitation that morning — “We’ll be there and I just put out a feeler,” he said — the president reportedly told The Hill on Monday that he “might” want to meet Kim at the DMZ. The White House asked the publication to withhold the information out of security concerns.

“After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President of Chine, I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)” Trump wrote Saturday morning in the initial public overture.

Asked what would happen if Kim didn’t show up, Trump joked to reporters that, “Everybody is going to say, ‘He was stood up by Chairman Kim.'”

While at the DMZ, Trump said he would consider stepping into North Korean territory, which no sitting U.S. president has done. “I would have no problem,” he said, adding that he would feel “comfortable” taking such a step.

Trump previously planned to visit the DMZ during a 2017 trip to South Korea but canceled at the last minute due to weather. That trip, however, was during a period of peak tensions between the two counties, with Trump threatening to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea.

But this time, the two sides are mostly in a period of status quo, and Trump expressed little sense of urgency.

“I’m in no rush whatsoever,” he said.

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