What to Know
- The DMZ is practical, but a symbol of the division of Korea 70 years ago
- Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un would likely both seek to host the other in their capital
- Third parties like China and Sweden may also be on the table
With just weeks to go, there's still no official word on where President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will hold their unprecedented summit.
Will they pick an obvious place like one of their own capitals, or something off the wall, like a ship at sea? Or a place so obscure the curious will be sent frantically searching Google Earth?
There's no dearth of speculation.
Japan surrendered to end World War II on a ship, the USS Missouri. And Potsdam and Yalta are known among historians and locals more so than the rest of us. But like those places, the host city for a Trump-Kim summit could be etched indelibly in the pages of history.
Here are some places they might be eyeing.
IN THE DMZ
This is probably the most sensible choice.
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Holding the summit in what is called the Joint Security Area inside the Demilitarized Zone that divides North and South Korea would check off some boxes for pragmatists.
It's spitting distance from the safety of Kim's own borders, so getting there (and getting out hastily, in a contingency) with a large entourage of bodyguards and other assorted personnel would be easier and cheaper. Kim is supposed to hold his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in there in late April, before the Trump summit, so that could be something of a dress rehearsal.
But the location has some complicated optics.
It's a symbol of the division of Korea 70 years ago into the socialist North and the capitalist South. For Kim, whose regime doesn't recognize South Korea as a legitimate country, it would have the added symbolism of being where the North claims it forced the U.S. and its allies in the 1950-53 Korean War to essentially capitulate and sign an armistice agreement.
For Trump, going there could be used as a way of showing support for the U.S. troops who are stationed along the DMZ to defend against a Northern invasion. Trump has, however, suggested that the U.S. pays too much to keep its roughly 30,000 troops in the South, so that might be a bit ticklish.
Having a U.S. president come all the way to the North Korean capital would be the holy grail for Kim. He could play the host and spin the whole thing as Trump arriving, tail between his legs, to pay homage to Kim and his nuclear weapons.
That's why it almost certainly won't happen.
But Kim has cause to push hard for it. It's where his father, Kim Jong Il, held summit meetings with South Korean presidents in 2000 and 2007 and with Japan's prime minister in 2002, so there is a strong precedent. Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter traveled to Pyongyang after they left office. Clinton went in 2009 to bring back a couple of jailed American journalists and Carter actually went three times — he met with Kim Jong Un's grandfather amid high tensions in 1994 and returned in 2010 and 2011.
Trump appreciates big welcome ceremonies, such as those given on his trips to Saudi Arabia and Beijing last year. They had lots of pomp. And while it's probably too late for Kim Jong Un to treat Trump to a military parade, another thing the U.S. commander in chief says he enjoys, Kim is capable of throwing a lavish welcome.
Dennis Rodman might have some advice. The former NBA player, one of the only high-profile Americans to have visited the North in recent years, claims to have partied pretty hard with Kim.
Same downside as Pyongyang, but for Kim Jong Un this time.
It's a long way to go to essentially be seen as the one paying respects. It also raises big questions about security, which is understandably a major concern for Kim if he were to go to the heart of the country that he and his predecessors have seen as their mortal enemy.
Of course, Trump could throw in some sweeteners. He could reassure Kim that he would be afforded all the trappings of a world leader, which, again, would be a gift for North Korea's propaganda machine. But it would open up Trump, who as a candidate quipped he wouldn't pay for a state dinner with Kim but would be open to having hamburgers, to criticism from opponents at home and abroad.
As a reality TV-style publicity bombshell, Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort would seem to be both a longshot and a definite short-lister. Trump hosted both Japan's prime minister and China's president at the seaside club.
It's possible the idea of going to either would intrigue Kim. He hasn't done much traveling and perhaps he has a penchant for it. He has shown off a new jetliner that looks an awful lot like a smaller version of Air Force One.
But in the end it's a choice he could only make if he can somehow be absolutely sure it isn't seen as a sign of weakness or desperation.
If there is even a hint of either, he could find himself facing emboldened rivals when he goes home.
It's a third party, so that's a plus. Security wouldn't likely be a concern. And China, the frequent target of Trump tweetstorms, has been trying hard to show it is doing its best to rein in its neighbor's nuclear ambitions.
But relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have grown stormy lately.
North Korea's state-run media have called out China for blindly following Washington's lead on sanctions. China's recent tightening of its trade restrictions is causing considerable pain in Pyongyang. Kim's decision to sit down with the leaders of South Korea and the United States — not China or Russia — is itself a sign of the times.
From that perspective, it would seem unlikely Kim would want to give Beijing any credit for helping to make the summit happen.
SWEDEN, FINLAND, SWITZERLAND
Neutrality is their advantage.
Sweden has an embassy in Pyongyang and represents the interests of the U.S., Canada and Australia. North Korea's foreign minister just flew to Stockholm for talks and met the prime minister, who hinted that Sweden would be a willing host. Sweden is also believed to be working behind the scenes to get North Korea to release three incarcerated Americans.
Releasing the Americans would be welcomed by Trump and a significant humanitarian breakthrough. So, host or not, Sweden's role is worth noting.
Finland's connection is a bit more tenuous. This week it is hosting semi-formal negotiations between current and former officials from the U.S., South Korea and North Korea. That meeting will likely be important for establishing summit expectations and possibly even agenda items.
Switzerland has been thrown into the speculative mix mainly because Kim lived there as a student and it is the very definition of a neutral country.
All have the drawback of being far from home for Kim, who will want to make sure nothing happens while he is away.
On the upside, Kim does like ski resorts. And maybe snowmobiling.
So, you never know.
Especially with these two leaders.