Among the mysteries surrounding President Trump’s potential summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — aside from whether it would happen at all — is where the two leaders could meet.
The world may be getting closer to an answer.
The South Korean presidential office, which recently organized a historic summit of its own with Kim, hinted Tuesday that it supports Trump using the same facility: a truce village along the border separating the two countries, known as Panmunjom.
It was this location, rich with diplomatic history and symbolism, that Trump hours earlier tweeted might be a “more Representative, Important and Lasting site” than any other, though several are reportedly being considered.
A meeting at this location could also give the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in more leverage over the agenda and outcome, given the geography. The United States and South Korea are key regional allies, and more than 28,000 American troops are stationed on the peninsula.
Trump and Kim, who just last fall traded digital insults arising from the totalitarian nation’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, are expected to meet in the coming weeks, though a date, agenda and — of course — location are still being determined.
An anonymous official from the Blue House, the South’s presidential office, was quoted by the local news agency Yonhap as suggesting the site to Trump during a recent call with Moon, who had what appeared to be a cordial day of meetings with the North’s leader last week.
“Panmunjom is quite a meaningful place for dissolving division and establishing a new signpost of peace,” said the senior official, whose comment was later confirmed by Moon’s staff.
Moon’s office said the location, a secure base about an hour north of Seoul and a few hours south of Pyongyang, came up during their recent discussion about the summit.
Later in the day, the Blue House sought to downplay expectations about the location, saying the White House and the North ultimately would decide where a meeting would be held.
“Nothing has been decided about the location and timing of the North Korea-U.S. summit. Assuming any supposition as truth and adding imaginations will significantly raise the possibility of false reporting,” said Yoon Young-chan, a presidential spokesman.
At the recent North-South summit, only the third top-level meeting between two countries that have remained technically at war for more than six decades, Kim and Moon signed a three-page agreement. It states they will work toward the “goal” of denuclearization and better inter-Korean relations, including a potential peace agreement formally ending the Korean War.
The denuclearization of the North, which could have as many as 60 weapons and the theoretical ability to deliver them via intercontinental ballistic missiles, is expected to be a central issue for discussion during any meeting between Trump and Kim.
Kim said Monday that he would be willing to allow Westerners into his main nuclear test site, a tunnel-bored mountain in a northeastern province, to help prove his sincerity about freezing his weapons development, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
Many experts believe the site is already badly damaged — perhaps unusable — after the underground test of a powerful hydrogen bomb in September.
The final test was among numerous nuclear and missile provocations last year that prompted renewed condemnation and economic sanctions by the international community.
But the Winter Olympics, in which the North and South participated together, created a diplomatic opening that led to the recent talks. Moon initially invited the North last summer, though talks about their combined hockey team and joint march during the opening ceremony at the Games didn’t occur until January.
Kim and Trump could also hold their summit somewhere else in Asia — perhaps in Mongolia — or in Europe, where Switzerland appeared to be a likely favorite.
“Numerous countries are being considered for the MEETING,” Trump tweeted Monday.
The intrigue about the location comes a day after Moon, who risked his presidency to pursue dialogue and invite the North to the recent Winter Games in South Korea, suggested in an offhand remark that Trump might warrant consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize for creating an environment that prompted the summit.
“It’s President Trump who should receive the Nobel Prize,” Moon said in response to a letter from the widow of Kim Dae-jung, the South Korean president who met with Kim Jong Il, the North’s late ruler, in the first summit between the two nations’ leaders. “We only need to take peace.”
The comment was translated differently by news organizations, but Moon’s choice of words in Korean indicated he was more concerned about lasting peace than a ceremonial prize for seeking to achieve it.
In another sign of a warming relationship, the two Koreas began dismantling huge loudspeakers along their shared border. For years the loudspeakers have been used to blare Cold War-style propaganda in each other’s direction.
On the heels of his diplomatic success at Panmunjom, a diplomatic outpost where troops from the North and South, the latter backed by those from the United States, stand yards apart, Moon is scheduled to visit Tokyo next week for a trilateral summit with Japan and China — the first since 2015, his office said.
Moon will be the first sitting South Korean president to visit Japan in years. The countries, which have a complicated history, have sparred in recent years about the treatment of Korean women during a pre-World War II period in which the Japanese occupied the peninsula.
Moon is expected to discuss cooperation with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Li Keqiang, China’s premier. The president’s office said the meeting would include a recounting of the recent inter-Korean summit with the two regional powers, which have distinct interests in security on the Korean peninsula.
Stiles is a special correspondent.