President Donald Trump said he will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore, locking in a historic summit between the two leaders amid their confrontation over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
“We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” Trump said in a Twitter message Thursday announcing the date and place of the long-anticipated talks.
Trump made the announcement hours after the arrival in Washington of three US citizens who had been imprisoned in North Korea. The president and his wife Melania greeted the three when their plane arrived at Joint Base Andrews shortly before 3am Thursday, and he praised their release as a conciliatory gesture by Kim.
Singapore – almost 5,000 kilometres (3,000 miles) south of Pyongyang - represents neutral turf for the two leaders. The city-state of 5.5 million people boasts security partnerships with the US, a North Korean embassy and strong ties with China.
The government there also has a history of putting together high-profile diplomatic events at short notice, hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s historic 2015 meeting with his then-counterpart from Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou. Still, Kim’s agreement to travel so far from the safety of Pyongyang – farther than he’s ever been as a leader – could be seen as a concession by North Korea.
Trump heads into the summit hoping to gain an agreement from Kim to give up his nuclear weapons and end North Korea’s ballistic missile program. US intelligence agencies have warned that the regime is on the verge of being able to mount a nuclear strike against the US mainland.
The US has alternated for decades between threats and conciliatory approaches to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests that have vexed a string of US presidents. The confrontation grew heated last year, with Trump deriding Kim as “Little Rocket Man” and Kim calling the president a “mentally deranged US dotard.”
Since Trump agreed in March to the summit with Kim, both sides have been warmer in public. The US president has repeatedly expressed optimism about reaching a deal, lauding North Korea for halting nuclear tests and praising Kim last month as “very honourable.”
The meeting will be the first between a North Korean leader and a sitting US president, though former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have travelled to North Korea since leaving office to negotiate the release of prisoners and to discuss potential diplomatic talks. Then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang in 2000 to meet with Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, who was the North Korean leader then.
The return of prisoners the US has called “hostages” cleared an obstacle to direct talks between Trump and Kim.
Trump thanked Kim for releasing the men. “This is a special night for these three really great people and congratulations on being in this country,” Trump told reporters at the airbase. “The fact that we were able to get them out so soon was really a tribute to a lot of things, including a certain process that’s taking place right now. And that process is very important.”
The three men flew to Washington after their release to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was dispatched to Pyongyang on Tuesday in the hope that Kim would agree to free the detainees and also to advance planning for the summit.
“It’s like a dream. And we are very, very happy,” one of the released detainees, Kim Dong Chul, said through a translator when asked how it felt to be home, according to a transcript released by the White House.
Asked how they were treated by the North Koreans, he said, “We were treated in many different ways. For me, I had to do a lot of labour. But when I got sick, I was also treated by them.”