WASHINGTON - With US President Donald Trump ruling out holding his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the DMZ – the Demilitarised Zone separating the two Koreas – there is a strong possibility it will be held in Singapore.
Mr Trump has previously said the choice of summit locations had been narrowed down to two. The Wall Street Journal reported that he told visiting Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari on April 30 that the choice of venue was down to the DMZ and Singapore.
CNN, citing two unnamed officials with knowledge of the plans, reported on Wednesday night that officials from the Trump administration had been instructed to move forward with plans to convene the historic summit in Singapore.
The report was published while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on his way home following a surprise one-day trip to North Korea to finalise details of the summit.
Singapore has been the preferred location among US officials, who see its neutrality as an advantage over locations closer to Pyongyang, said CNN.
On Wednesday evening Chris Nelson, author of the influential Asian newsletter Nelson Report, wrote: "It will surprise most observers if the pick isn't Singapore, apparently at the outer limits of Kim's personal aircraft if he wants a non-stop flight. Trump today did say the reachable-by-train DMZ has been ruled out."
The final decision on the summit venue will typically be the President’s.
When receiving the three American nationals released from North Korea at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington DC at 2am (local time) on Thursday (May 10), he was asked several times whether Singapore will be the summit venue.
He did not answer the question. He said that the US appreciated Mr Kim letting the three Americans go before the meeting.
"We're starting off on a new footing, I think we have a very good chance of doing something meaningful," he told reporters.
"My proudest achievement will be when we denuclearise that entire peninsula," he said.
The trio was brought back by Mr Pompeo following his second trip to the reclusive country in weeks.
North Korea’s state news agency KCNA reported that Mr Kim has expressed optimism for the summit with Mr Trump.
"The coming DPRK-US summit would be a historic meeting for the excellent first step towards promotion of the positive situation development in the Korean peninsula and building of a good future," KCNA quoted Mr Kim as telling Mr Pompeo.
"At the meeting, an in-depth discussion was made on the practical matters for holding the DPRK-U.S. summit and its procedure and ways," the news agency quoted Mr Kim as saying.
Mr Kim said he had granted "amnesty" to the three men "who have been detained in the DPRK for their anti-DPRK hostilities".
The KCNA added that North Korea's leader accepted the president's request that three detained US citizens be released. Mr Kim also expresed optimism about the upcoming summit with Mr Trump.
The release of the three men helps maintain the momentum towards the Trump-Kim summit and address concerns in the US that Mr Trump may go into the summit with little to show in the lead-up to it.
The release of the detainees was an easy giveaway for Mr Kim, analysts said. But for Mr Trump it would go down well with his support base at home.
“It is, for sure, a political plus for Trump,” Dr Glenn Altschuler, professor of American studies at Cornell University told The Straits Times.
“All the more so, because it underscores his message that toughness gets results.”
“But there are some perils ahead for him: the possibility of instability in the Middle East that is connected to the withdrawal from the Iran deal; and the likelihood that the summit with North Korea will not succeed,” Dr Altschuler cautioned.
“Either of these possibilities – or both of them – might well have a more lasting domestic political impact than the release of the three Americans. To say nothing, of course, of the impact on regional and global stability.”
Earlier on Wednesday (May 9) Mr Trump told reporters the venue for the summit would be announced within three days.
“I appreciate Kim Jong Un doing this and allowing them (the three Americans) to go,” he told journalists in brief remarks at the start of a Cabinet meeting.
On the summit, he said: “We've picked a time. We've picked a place for the meeting, or 'summit', as you like to call it. And I think it'll be very successful. But as I always say, 'Who knows?' Who knows what's going to happen. But it's going to be a very important event.”
Asked when the summit was going to take place, he said: “We're going to announce that in three days… within three days.”
“We’re just working arrangements,” he said.
Asked if it would be at the DMZ, he said: “It will not be there, no.”
Singapore has various sites that could host a summit of that significance, which among other things demands robust security and arrangements for hundreds of media.
One of Mr Trump's major donors, Sheldon Adelson, owner of Las Vegas Sands Corp, has a property in Singapore - the Marina Bay Sands. Mr Adelson is close to Mr Trump, even - reportedly - advising him on Middle East policy decisions.
The White House declined to comment on the summit's location.
Speaking during a briefing on Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders affirmed that a date and site had been determined.
"I can tell you that a date and location are set but beyond that, I don't have any other announcements at this point," Sanders said.
"But we expect that to be announced here in the next few days."