US President Donald Trump finally affirms, “We’re going to the DMZ (demilitarized zone), and I’ll meet chairman Kim. I am very excited about it.”
Two hours later, the time has come: Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un reach out across the inter-Korean border. Then Trump is the first American president ever to enter North Korea. He takes a few steps, much further, when South Korean President Moon Jae-in did it at his first meeting with Kim. Finally, North Korean Trump follows the South Korean side, where both, surrounded by journalists, make statements.
The meeting shows Trump’s willingness to leave behind the conflicts of the past and open a new chapter, says Kim. Trump speaks of a “special friendship”. He announces that he wants to invite the North Koreans to the White House. Finally, he leads Kim to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who also traveled to the demilitarized zone. Trump says that when he became president, there were major conflicts in the region. “Now it’s the opposite.”
It is the third time that Trump and Kim meet after the two summits in Hanoi and Singapore. But the meeting on Sunday in the truce Panmunjom on the inter-Korean border is not a “summit”. It’s just “a handshake,” as the president put it. In terms of content, there are no high expectations from the beginning, since at least since the Hanoi meeting, there had been no official discussions at the working level.
Critics accuse Trump of giving a handshake to dictator Kim Jong-un’s regime. An appropriate question dodges Trump on Sunday. He also does not respond to the question of what he wants to do with the meeting and what message he wants to send out that he is the first incumbent president of the United States ever to enter North Korean soil.
Instead, Donald Trump repeatedly emphasizes that the security situation in Korea and Japan has improved significantly in the two and a half years of his tenure. North Korea is no longer firing ballistic missiles and testing nuclear weapons, Trump explains. The American president insists that the idea of handshake with Kim came as a surprise on Saturday morning. While still in Osaka, Japan, during the G-20 summit, Trump had invited Kim to a short “hello” in Panmunjom in a digital news bulletin on Twitter. Just over five hours later, there was a first public reaction from North Korea, which is extremely short for the regime.
Commentators in South Korea see this as a possible indication that a meeting of Trump and Kim on the border had previously spoken between the states. Even Trump himself had made a few hints earlier to journalists a hint in this direction, which “for security reasons” but was not allowed to be reported.
The meeting could, in the best case, breathe new life into the deadlocked nuclear talks that have been held since the aborted Hanoi Summit. The fact that a gathering at the highest level seemed necessary, but also shows how little movement there is. The positions expressed on both sides remain incompatible. North Korea is seeking a step-by-step process, rewarding sanctions for individual disarmament steps. Washington, on the other hand, demanded a complete abandonment of the nuclear program in Hanoi before it was ready for return. Trump’s emphasis on his relationship with Kim Jong-un has probably contributed to North Korea’s reluctance to negotiate below this level.
Trump is the fifth current US president to visit the demilitarized zone along the demarcation line between the two Korean states. The first president was Ronald Reagan in November 1983. Reagan at Camp Liberty Bell praised the American soldiers on the border as the “Frontline of Freedom.” He called the North Korean regime a system that stood against everything the Americans believed in. Ten years later, William “Bill” Clinton came and warned North Korea against the development of nuclear weapons. In 2002, George W. Bush emphasized in the DMZ that America and South Korea had no intention of attacking Pyongyang. Shortly before, Busch had classified the regime as part of the “axis of evil”. For ten years Barack Obama spoke of huge differences between South-North Korea in the standard of living and in the degree of freedom. He warned that a missile test announced at that time would isolate North Korea even more.