The Koreas

Trump, Senior US Officials to Attend Summit With South Korea

High-level accompaniment to the U.S. president raises questions of a possible DMZ visit—or even a summit.

Ankit Panda
Trump, Senior US Officials to Attend Summit With South Korea
Credit: Official White House Photo

U.S. President Donald J. Trump and senior U.S. officials will arrive in South Korea on Saturday for summit-level talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the South Korean presidential office announced on Monday.

Trump will be accompanied by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, and the top U.S. envoy on North Korea, Stephen E. Biegun. The uncharacteristic participation of multiple senior officials has raised speculation about a possible North Korea-related summit at the inter-Korean Peace Village in Panmunjom.

South Korean government officials have suggested that the U.S. president might make his first trip to the inter-Korean Demilitarized Zone, but have not confirmed such a visit. The seniormost Trump administration official to visit the DMZ was U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in April 2017.

Trump will head to South Korea immediately after the Group of 20 (G20) leaders’ summit in Osaka, Japan. Biegun, Pompeo, and Bolton will arrive in South Korea in advance of Trump’s arrival, according to one report.

The meeting will be Trump’s second with Moon this year. The two leaders last met in early April, a little more than one month after Trump’s second summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, ended without any agreement.

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This time, according to the South Korean presidential office, Trump and Moon will discuss the U.S.-South Korea alliance and issues pertaining to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

At the G20, Trump will meet with other world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping who became the first Chinese leader to visit North Korea in 14 years last week. Xi and Kim discussed a range of issues relating to the China-North Korea relationship, which was established 70 years ago in 1949, the same year the People’s Republic of China was founded.

It’s unclear if Xi and Trump will discuss North Korea. The two are slated primarily to discuss trade issues, marking the first talks since the collapse of trade negotiations in May.

Moon and Trump’s upcoming meeting comes amid the clearest indicator since the Hanoi summit that Trump and Kim are working to warm ties. The two leaders have exchanged letters recently. Kim, who received a reply from Trump to a letter he had sent earlier this month, said he found the U.S. president’s letter to be “excellent” and was contemplating the contents.

“Kim Jong Un said he would seriously contemplate the interesting content, appreciating the political judgment and extraordinary courage of President Trump,” North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency said. North Korea did not clarify what Trump said in his letter.

Regardless, a summit between the United States and North Korea so soon after the Hanoi meeting appears to be unlikely. In April, Kim, in a public address to members of the Korean Workers’ Party, said that the United States would have to make a “bold decision”—effectively, reassess its negotiating position—for another summit to take place.

The summit in Hanoi failed amid U.S. demands for North Korea to submit to complete nuclear disarmament before any sanctions could be relaxed. North Korea, by contrast, offered up a limited number of nuclear sites in exchange for significant sanctions relief.