Mongolia, Singapore on shortlist of Trump-Kim summit venues: South Korean daily

A source told JoongAng Ilbo that the US and North Korea are holding final negotiations to choose between Singapore and Mongolia. PHOTO: ST FILE
The meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is planned for "early June or before". PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL - Mongolia and Singapore are on a shortlist of locations for a planned summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo reported on Wednesday (April 25).

Last Tuesday (April 17), Trump said five locations are under consideration for the planned meeting in "early June or before".

A source with knowledge of the decision told JoongAng Ilbo: "European countries such as Switzerland and Sweden were mentioned up until now, but they have been excluded because it was determined to be difficult for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to physically get there... The United States and North Korea are holding final negotiations to choose between Singapore and Mongolia."

The decision could be reached as early as this week, the source said. But an official announcement might be delayed at the request of Pyongyang until details including the date and agenda are finalised.

The source said the European countries are difficult to reach non-stop aboard the Chammae-1, a private North Korean jet converted from a Soviet aircraft. Pyongyang is said to prefer not to have a layover.

The 1970s-era Chammae-1 can fly stably for only up to around 5,000km. But Stockholm is around 7,200km from Pyongyang while Zurich is about 8,500km away.

The source said North Korea would still like to hold the summit in Pyongyang but if the US does not agree, it "has come around to the idea of reviewing Mongolia as a location". This is because North Korea considers Mongolia, located between China and Russia, as "a friendly country".

Mongolia has hosted talks involving current North Korean officials and academics from Western countries, and Kim can travel there by rail on his bulletproof train.

The United States has friendly relations with Mongolia but has pointed to inadequate infrastructure in the capital of Ulanbaatar and is pushing for Singapore, according to the report.

"The US government had excluded countries with personal interests from the list of candidates, including South Korea, Japan and China, and afterward looked for South-east Asian countries that simultaneously met various conditions, which is why Singapore was selected," the source said.

JoongAng Ilbo said this suggests Singapore best fulfills Washington's standard in terms of infrastructure and security, as well as Trump's wish to have a glamorous location.

"Since President Trump desires to leave his historic mark through the North-US summit, he wants a country that can best draw the attention of the entire world," another source close to the White House was quoted as saying. "Based on that criteria, Mongolia could be a choice that does not satisfy Trump."

Both the US and North Korea have embassies in Singapore.

Singapore is 4,700km away from Pyongyang, which is within the range of the Chammae-1. Flights usually take about 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Another source close to the White House said South Korean locations such as the border village of Panmunjom, Seoul and Jeju have been ruled out because they are "already being publicised through the inter-Korean summit" to be held on Friday (April 27).

Trump also does not want to appear to hand over leadership on the North Korea issue to South Korea, the report said.

In an interview on Friday (April 20), Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Singapore has not been approached yet.

"I have not had any invitations to offer ourselves as a host," Dr Balakrishnan told the BBC World Service on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London.

When asked if Singapore would be open to hosting the meeting, he said: "No, I think we are jumping the gun. But as I said, we welcome the meeting, we welcome frank dialogue between two key protagonists. A de-nuclearised Korean peninsula would be a very positive step for all of us in Asia and in the world."

The Straits Times understands that a request has not been received since the interview.

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