Trump Exults in Release of Prisoners and a Date Next Month With Kim Jong-un
WASHINGTON — President Trump, exulting in the release of three Americans from prison in North Korea, confirmed Thursday that he would meet Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, in Singapore on June 12, setting the date for a once unimaginable encounter. The choice of Singapore, a tidy, prosperous city-state with ties to both the United States and North Korea, is a small victory for Mr. Trump’s advisers, who talked him out of meeting Mr. Kim in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea — a far more symbolic, but politically problematic, location. “We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” Mr. Trump said in a midmorning post on Twitter, hours after he traveled in the middle of the night to Joint Base Andrews near Washington to greet the three men: Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song. North Korea’s release of the Americans lifted a major obstacle to the summit meeting. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has taken charge of the diplomatic opening to the North, finalized its date and location during a 90-minute meeting with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, the north’s capital. Afterward, Mr. Pompeo left with the detainees on his plane. For Mr. Trump, basking in the glow of floodlights and TV cameras, it was a jubilant moment as he descended the steps of the aircraft with the three Americans, who flashed peace signs. But he acknowledged that the most difficult phase of the negotiations — persuading North Korea to surrender its nuclear weapons arsenal — lies ahead. “We’re starting off on a new footing,” he said. “I think he did this because I really think he wants to do something and bring that country into the real world.” As the two sides discussed potential meeting sites — the United States, South Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam and even a Navy warship anchored in the Pacific — they balanced political issues with practical considerations, like whether Mr. Kim could fly long distances on North Korea’s rickety aircraft. Last week, Mr. Trump expressed his preference for the Demilitarized Zone, saying that if the talks were successful, “there’s a great celebration to be had on the site.” He was clearly beguiled by the meeting of Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, which was replete with the images of two long-estranged neighbors making peace. But that symbolism troubled some officials, who argued that the Demilitarized Zone, because of its connection to the Korean War, would put a greater spotlight on the prospects for peace on the Korean Peninsula than on ridding the North of its nuclear weapons. They also worried about the optics of Mr. Trump traveling to Mr. Kim’s doorstep. EDITORS’ PICKS On Social Media’s Fringes, Extremism Targets Women A Simple Way to Improve a Billion Lives: Eyeglasses An Orchestra Adopts a City, One Kid at Time Singapore, by contrast, is neutral ground, nearly 3,000 miles from Pyongyang, and not a treaty ally of the United States, like South Korea, Japan or the Philippines. Both countries have embassies there, United States Navy warships call at Singapore’s port and North Korea has operated trading companies there, though they have been shut down because of sanctions against Pyongyang. “North Korea will have a comfort level there that they just don’t have in other countries,” said Franklin L. Lavin, who served as the American ambassador to Singapore under President George W. Bush. A large C.I.A. station is also in Singapore, another former official said, and American spies meet regularly with their North Korean counterparts as part of an intelligence channel between the two countries.
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