Donald Trump will travel to the demilitarised zone dividing the two Koreas on Sunday for a possible impromptu summit with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
In tweets early on Sunday Trump did not mention Kim but said his schedule for the day would include a speech to US troops and a “long planned” visit to the DMZ.
He also hailed the trade talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the G20 in Japan on Saturday as “far better than expected” and vowed to hold off on further tariffs as negotiations continue.
“The quality of the transaction is far more important to me than speed. I am in no hurry, but things look very good!” Trump tweeted on Sunday.
The ceasefire that halts damaging trade frictions came after a hotly anticipated meeting between the leaders of the world’s top two economies on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
Washington confirmed that it would not impose any further tariffs on Beijing’s exports. On Sunday Trump reiterated that China had agreed to buy “large amounts of agricultural products from our great Farmers.”
“Importantly, we have opened up negotiations again with China as our relationship with them continues to be a very good one,” he tweeted.
Trump had threatened to extend existing tariffs to cover almost all imports from China to the US unless Beijing made progress in meeting US demands for economic reforms.
Their trade dispute escalated when talks collapsed in May after Washington accused Beijing of reneging on reform pledges. Trump raised tariffs from 10% to 25% on $200bn of Chinese goods, and China retaliated with levies on US imports.
Focus will turn today to the Koreas, when Trump could meet the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, having extended and invitation to “shake his hand and say Hello(?!)“ in a tweet on Saturday.
Trump and Kim first met in Singapore last year in a blaze of publicity – the first-ever encounter between a leader of the nuclear-armed North and a sitting US president, whose forces and their allies fought each other to a stalemate in the 1950-53 Korean war.
That summit produced a vaguely-worded pledge about denuclearisation, but a second meeting in Hanoi in February broke up abruptly without agreement.
Contact between the two sides has since been minimal – with Pyongyang issuing frequent criticisms of the US position – but the two leaders have exchanged a series of letters.
Trump said at the G20 that he would have “no problem” stepping into the North with Kim – in what would be a dramatic re-enactment of the extraordinary scene last year when Kim invited the South Korean, President Moon Jae-in, to walk over the military demarcation line that forms the border between the Koreas.
It was not clear whether Kim would attend the rendezvous.
In an unusually fast and public response, within hours of Trump’s tweet the North’s official KCNA news agency quoted the vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, as saying the offer was “a very interesting suggestion” but that no official request had been received.
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, said the KCNA comments indicated Kim had “practically accepted” Trump’s invitation.
“If he [Kim] isn’t interested he would not release such a statement to begin with.”
A meeting in the DMZ would make a powerful visual statement, but analysts were divided over its potential impact.
The 4km-wide (2.5 miles) zone, running for 250km, is where the front line lay when the Korean war ended in 1953, with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, and is described as the world’s last Cold War frontier.
“The meeting, however short, will have a huge impact as the DMZ symbolises the military tension between North Korea and the United States,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University in Seoul.
However, Robert Kelly of Pusan National University, derided Trump’s invitation as “emblematic of why the Trump NK effort is a farce: thrown-together; last-minute; made-for-TV”.
It was driven by Trump’s “lust for optics and drama rather than substance” and “a photo-op for the 2020 election”, he tweeted.
But John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul said a meeting in the “barren no man’s land that embodies the unhealed wound of post-WWII division, the Korean war, and 70 years of animosity” would help improve ties.
“It’s not just about denuclearisation and it’s not all about a deal – important as those are,” he said. “If Trump and Kim meet & can announce some kind of interim agreement, that’s great. If they meet and don’t, that’s ok too. If in the end they don’t meet, it’s good that Trump offered to.”