WASHINGTON •US President Donald Trump says a date and place have been set for his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but he is not saying when and where just yet, building suspense for the unprecedented talks.
Singapore has emerged as the most likely candidate for the venue, according to South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, which yesterday reported that the meeting might be held in the third week of June, citing diplomatic sources in Washington.
US officials are said to favour Singapore because it offers a secure venue, but Mr Trump himself has said he would like his first meeting with Mr Kim to be held at Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, while still not ruling out Singapore as a possibility.
"We now have a date and we have a location - we'll be announcing it soon," Mr Trump told reporters on Friday.
Plans for a Trump-Kim meeting follow months of tense sabre-rattling over Pyongyang's testing of atomic weapons and long-range missiles, including some thought capable of reaching the American mainland.
Leading up to the summit, Mr Trump will meet South Korean President Moon Jae In on May 22. The visit was announced after a meeting between US National Security Adviser John Bolton and his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui Yong at the White House on Friday.
The US administration also pushed back on a New York Times report on Friday that Mr Trump was considering the withdrawal of US forces from South Korea.
Mr Trump told reporters: "Now, I have to tell you, at some point into the future, I would like to save the money. But troops are not on the table."
Under an agreement that expires at the end of this year, South Korea pays about half the cost of the upkeep of the 28,500 soldiers - over US$800 million (S$1 billion) a year.
Mr Trump is demanding that Seoul pay for virtually the entire cost of the military presence.
North Korea resents the presence of the US troops, arguing they threaten its national security and wishes to "decouple" the United States from its allies in East Asia.
In South Korea, too, the US troops are a politically divisive issue. Although many conservative South Koreans value their presence, there are many others who would like to see them go.
Notably, however, Mr Kim appears to have dropped his demand for US forces to leave South Korea ahead of his summit with Mr Trump.
The US leader also said that he had toned down his rhetoric in anticipation of the talks, after labelling Mr Kim "Little Rocket Man" last year and threatening him with "fire and fury".
"I won't use the rhetoric now," he said. "Now I'm trying to calm it down a little bit."
The possible release of three detained Americans by North Korea could also help prospects for the Trump-Kim meeting by boosting goodwill.
Reports have said the three were recently relocated from a labour camp to a hotel near Pyongyang, as expectations grow that they will be released before the summit.
"We're having very substantive talks with North Korea and a lot of things have already happened with respect to the hostages," Mr Trump said. "As I said yesterday, stay tuned."
Mr Moon, who has played a central role in calming tensions on the Korean peninsula, is scheduled to travel to Tokyo this week for meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at a summit between the three countries largely focused on North Korea.
BLOOMBERG, WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
SEE TOP OF THE NEWS