US President Donald Trump said on Sunday a US team was in North Korea to plan a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, raising expectations that the on-off-on meeting would indeed take place.
The State Department said earlier that a team was in Panmunjom, which straddles the border inside the demilitarised zone, or DMZ, separating North and South Korea. One can cross the border simply by stepping across a painted line, but moving beyond several footsteps into the North at Panmunjom would be rare for US officials.
Trump withdrew from a planned June 12 Singapore summit with Kim last Thursday, but quickly announced that it could get back on track. His tweet on Sunday afternoon, which offered praise for the long-time US adversary, was the latest signal that his concerns about the North’s stance toward the summit had been allayed.
“Our United States team has arrived in North Korea to make arrangements for the Summit between Kim Jong Un and myself,” he tweeted. “I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial Nation one day. Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this. It will happen!”
South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, gave details about his surprise meeting on Saturday with Kim in the Panmunjom truce village, saying Kim had committed to sitting down with Trump and to a “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tapped veteran American diplomat Sung Kim to handle pre-summit negotiations. On a separate but complementary track was the CIA team Pompeo set up last year when he headed the spy agency. And on a third track was a White House logistical group sent to Singapore on Sunday, to prepare in case the summit takes place. It was led by Joe Hagin, White House deputy chief of staff for operations.
Kim, the US ambassador to the Philippines, also served as ambassador to South Korea and was part of the US negotiating team that last held substantive denuclearisation talks with North Korea during the George W. Bush administration in 2005.