Several people watch on television the news about the summit announcement between US President Donald Trump (i) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on March 9, 2018 at a train station in Seoul.
The surprise announcement of a future summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is the latest, and most impressive, diplomatic breakthrough recorded in the crisis on the Korean peninsula.
The United States and North Korea, with their respective allies, clashed in the Korean War (1950-1953), which culminated in an armistice without ever signing a peace agreement.
Here are some questions that arise after the announcement of the summit:
– Where will the summit take place?
At the moment all that has been confirmed is that the meeting will take place at the end of May.
If it is celebrated in Pyongyang, it is almost certain that Kim will mount a great show to offer to the visitor, but in this case the United States runs the risk of appearing to be there to express his respect.
The Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas, where Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are scheduled to meet at the end of April, is the most likely place, as it offers easy access for both sides and offers guarantees of security.
This scenario would also fulfill the solemnity and the drama of which both leaders are adept.
Other neutral places with less symbolic weight are Beijing or Geneva, Switzerland being a country known to Kim, who studied there. In this case the three actors should enter to coordinate with the host country.
This option would imply that both travel and Kim has not left North Korea since he inherited the power of his father in 2011.
For Pyongyang, a trip to Seoul is unthinkable and Washington, much less, but on the other hand no one could have predicted three months ago that Kim’s sister was visiting the capital of South Korea.
The UN headquarters in New York, where Trump lived, would imply that Kim would travel to US territory.
Events have advanced so fast and gone so far that no option can be ruled out.
– How is Trump going to prepare? –
The announcement at the White House came almost 24 hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States „was far from negotiating“ with the North.
Pyongyang diplomats are known to be tough and devious. One expert described them as „very Machiavellian“.
But with the coming to power of Trump, the State Department has lost a lot of specialist in Korea and has yet to name its ambassador in Seoul.
The special delegate of the United States in North Korean affairs, Joseph Yun, retired last week and there has not been the diplomatic work that usually precedes a summit.
„Summits usually occur at the end of a long series of low-level negotiations, in which the details are filed,“ said Robert Kelly, an associate professor at the National University of Pusan in South Korea.
– How are they going to take? –
Chung Eui-yong (c), Security Adviser of South Korea; Suh Hoon (i), head of his intelligence service; and Cho Yoon-je, the US ambassador, announce the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un on March 8, 2018 in Washington
The two leaders are radically different people, but in some ways they are similar.
Kim was anointed to inherit the power of his father and was raised for it. Trump, on the other hand, is the American president whose election was more surprising, after he arrived at the White House after a career as a businessman and television star.
Kim has more experience in government, has been the leader of his country for more than six years, and hopes to govern for decades, so he thinks in the long term and does not care about the next day’s headlines, since he controls the means of communication.
But both men value personal loyalty, have close members of their family as trusted advisors and also both cultivate a taste for theater, Trump calling a military parade in Washington and Kim with the usual stops in Pyongyang.
Last year they engaged in an exchange of insults and threats, in which Trump denigrated Kim by calling him „little Rocket Man“ (in reference to the missile launches) and then threatened him by promising „fire and fury“ over Pyongyang
Kim responded by calling Trump „mentally deranged.“
But Trump is known for his sudden changes of opinion and in November he launched on Twitter: „I tried so hard to be his friend and maybe one day he’ll get it.“
– What is the role of South Korea? –
Surprisingly, all the key announcements of recent days have left South Korea.
It was his envoys who revealed North Korea’s willingness to put the nuclear issue on the negotiating table at the White House, without the presence of any US officials.
In the first months of the presidency of Donald Trump, the president focused on China, to try to get Beijing to influence his neighbor and developed a very close link with Japan and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
After initial jealousy fears in Seoul, which were reinforced by criticism of its president, Moon Jae-in, now the South Korean leader showed that he took advantage of the opportunity offered by the Winter Games held in Pyeongchang in February.
– How will China react?
For decades, Beijing has been the key ally of Pyongyang and its protector. Its main source of trade and aid, but the relationship has weakened in recent years.
Kim has not traveled to Beijing to express his respect to President Xi Jinping and Beijing begins to be increasingly frustrated with the behavior of his neighbor, showing his willingness to apply sanctions against Pyongyang and even to reinforce them.
At the same time, Beijing fears that a collapse of the Pyongyang regime will send waves of refugees into its territory and also enjoys imagining US troops stationed in a unified Korea.
Anyway, China has urged for years to resume the Dialogue of the Six and this week Beijing celebrated the announcement of Seoul.
Any agreement that leads to a reduction of US troops in South Korea would implicitly imply the balance of power in favor of Beijing, in a region that China increasingly sees as its backyard.