Venue for Trump-Kim summit still an open question

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have never met.
US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have never met. PHOTO: REUTERS

Officials seek neutral place which can cater to N. Korean chief's Soviet-era plane limitations

WASHINGTON • Of all the obstacles to the potential summit meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, just getting there could prove the most turbulent.

As officials scramble to convene the hastily announced and once-unthinkable meeting in the coming weeks, the site itself remains an open question.

It is unclear whether Mr Kim's fleet of Soviet-era planes can fly him more than a few thousand kilometres from North Korea.

Since taking power in 2011, Mr Kim is not known to have flown outside his country, and the question of his transportation adds a layer of political complications to a fraught and uncertain summit meeting.

Sitting leaders of the two countries have never met.

Citing senior American officials, US media said on Wednesday that a number of locations had already been ruled out, including Seoul, Pyongyang, Beijing, Mongolian capital Ulaanbataar and Panmunjom, the site of the Korean armistice signing where South Korean President Moon Jae In will meet Mr Kim next week.

Here are the other options discussed:

EUROPE

In theory, a neutral location like Sweden or Switzerland would be ideal. Both maintain diplomatic relations with the United States and North Korea and have signalled a willingness to facilitate the summit.

Those locales have been the sites of some of the most significant diplomatic achievements in history - Geneva hosted the 1985 meeting between US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Mr Kim also went to school in Switzerland.

Sweden has an embassy in Pyongyang and acts as the so-called "protecting power" or representative for the US. Sweden has often been used as a communications channel between North Korea and the US.

U.S. TERRITORY

With the expected range of Mr Kim's planes, a trip to Hawaii or Guam - the closest US territory to North Korea - would almost certainly require a refuelling stop or a borrowed plane. Korea experts call that an indignity that Mr Kim would not accept.

SOUTH-EAST ASIA

A venue in Asia might be the easiest compromise. It frees Mr Kim from the political headache of travelling by plane and keeps Mr Trump away from North Korea.

Communist Vietnam and Singapore, which in 2015 hosted the first encounter between the leaders of Beijing and Taipei since they split at end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, are being considered rather than more obvious choices like China or Japan.

Also in the running is Bangkok which, like Singapore, is one of the few cities in Asia to host a North Korean embassy. The US embassy in Thailand is one of its largest.

China, the North's chief ally, is politically problematic because of the rocky relationship between Mr Trump and Beijing. Japan is not an option given its longstanding historical tensions with North Korea. Russia presents a similar problem to China.

NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2018, with the headline 'Venue for Trump-Kim summit still an open question'. Print Edition | Subscribe