(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump said he’d cross into North Korea at the country’s border to meet Kim Jong Un this weekend as the U.S. president looks to restart stalled nuclear talks.
“I will be in South Korea — I let him know,” Trump told reporters in Osaka, Japan, after a tweet Saturday morning in which he invited Kim for a handshake. “We’ll see. If he’s there we’ll see each other for two minutes. That’s all we can, but that will be fine.”
As he arrived in Seoul a few hours later, Trump told reporters he had heard back from North Korea, but didn’t elaborate. “We’re gonna see. They’re working things out right now,” Trump said at South Korea’s Blue House presidential palace.
Asked at a news conference in Japan whether he’d step into North Korea at the border to meet Kim, Trump said “sure I would,” and that he’d have “no problem” with it. Trump is planning to visit the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea on Sunday.
If Trump crosses the border, he’d be the first American president to ever step foot into the country.
North Korean foreign ministry official Choe Son Hui said Trump’s invitation was “a very interesting suggestion, but we have not received an official proposal in this regard.”
“I am of the view that if the DPRK-U.S. summit meetings take place on the division line, as is intended by President Trump, it would serve as another meaningful occasion in further deepening the personal relations between the two leaders and advancing the bilateral relations,” Choe said, as quoted by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The United Nations forces and North Korean military are discussing details of a possible Trump-Kim meeting, Channel A reports, citing an unidentified government official.
If a meeting takes place, it would be the third between the two leaders since they began easing long-standing tensions that risked sparking a military conflict. A summit in Vietnam earlier this year collapsed without a deal, and discussions have gone nowhere since.
Back home, the snap invitation helped Trump draw attention from Democrats seeking to replace him. Their debates drew two days of prime-time television coverage this week while he was out of the country. But Trump’s tweet took government officials in South Korea and the U.S. by surprise, forcing them to scramble to plan for a meeting that — if it happens — would likely produce little more than publicity for the American president.
Trump is scheduled to visit Seoul on Saturday for an overnight stay and meetings with President Moon Jae-in. At the G-20, Trump approached Moon ahead of one of the joint sessions and asked “Did you see my tweet?,” Yonhap News reported, citing a Blue House official. When Moon said he had, Trump gave him a thumbs up and said “let’s work together,” the report said.
North Korea’s state media reported a week ago that Kim had received a letter from Trump with “excellent content,” without providing more details. A Trump-Kim encounter on Sunday hadn’t been confirmed, Ko Min-jung, a spokeswoman for South Korea’s presidential office, said by text message.
“Certainly we seem to get along very well,” Trump said of Kim during the start of a breakfast meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Group of 20 summit. “For the stupid people that say ‘Oh he gets along,’ no, it’s good to get along. It’s good to get along. Because, frankly, if I didn’t become president you’d be right now in a war with North Korea.”
Trump said he thought of sending the tweet inviting Kim to meet him at the border on Saturday.
“I just put out a feeler because I don’t know where he is right now,” the president said. “He may not be in North Korea but I said if Chairman Kim would want to meet I’ll be at the border.”
Trump’s trip to South Korea on Saturday and Sunday risks highlighting the distance between him and Kim, more than a year after their historic first meeting in Singapore. Despite the warm words, they’re still far apart on any plan to reduce or eliminate the North Korean nuclear arsenal.
Victor Cha, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said he expects South Korea’s government will now work on getting Kim to show up and meet Trump.
“But there’s nothing really to be gained from it except for a photo op,” he said in an interview. “There’s no real progress on denuclearization. The more meetings you do like this without any progress, the more you are legitimizing him as a leader and an acceptable nuclear weapons state.”
‘Like a Parrot’
The two leaders remain locked in a pattern of personal praise and diplomatic standoff, unable or unwilling to start negotiating the next steps forward. Even before Trump arrived in the region Thursday, North Korea’s foreign ministry complained in a statement that “the U.S. repeatedly talks about resumption of dialogue like a parrot without considering any realistic proposal.”
After a year of talks, the U.S. hasn’t got North Korea to agree to a definition of “denuclearization,” let alone a timeline to carry it out. Kim’s still buried under U.S. sanctions, unable to develop the beachfront resorts where Trump once mused about building “the best hotels in the world.”
Although a return to nuclear tests and threats of “fire and fury” seem unlikely for now, North Korea has reaffirmed Kim’s warning that he would only wait until the end of the year for the U.S. to make a better offer. In May, he sent Trump a pointed message about the potential for renewed tensions, test-launching ballistic missiles for the first time since November 2017.
The U.S. has insisted North Korea must fully abandon its nuclear arsenal and means of producing weapons before sanctions are relieved. Trump walked out of the Hanoi summit after Kim demanded sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling only the country’s main nuclear facility at Yongbyon, according to the president.
(Updates with North Korea comment in third paragraph.)
–With assistance from Derek Wallbank and Nick Wadhams.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jon Herskovitz in Tokyo at email@example.com;Margaret Talev in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org;Jihye Lee in Seoul at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at firstname.lastname@example.org, Alex Wayne, John Harney
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