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Calm before the storm? North Korea still mum on Trump summit

13 March 2018

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the USA expects North Korea to be in direct touch after President Donald Trump agreed to Kim Jong Un's invitation to meet, urging patience as preparations for the potentially historic handshake are worked out. He says Russia, South Korea and Japan will as well. The South Korean leader visited Beijing in December on a trip aimed at thawing tense bilateral relations strained over Seoul's decision to host a United States missile defence system that Beijing sees as a threat to its own security.

He said "North Korea's recent changes are the results of maximum pressure imposed by Japan, the United States, and South Korea working closely together". Trump then agreed to meet Kim by the end of May, he said. The only requirements were the terms already on offer to North Korea: "They cannot engage in missile testing, they cannot engage in nuclear testing and they cannot object to US-South Korean joint military exercises".

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President Trump immediately welcomed, in his own unorthodox way, the peaceful gestures from North Korea and accepted to hold a summit with the North Korean leader in May at a venue that has yet to be decided.

Several spots in Europe, including Switzerland and Sweden, have been raised as possible neutral locations for a summit.

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A summit between two nations that have remained in a state of war since the Korean War would be a remarkable turnabout after a year of heightened tensions.

As a child, Kim and his siblings attended an elite private school in Switzerland in the 1990s, according to former classmates there.

Critics have warned that North Korea might simply use the talks to stall for time to complete advances on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

"It is up to the parties involved to decide if, when and where the talks will be held", the ministry said in a statement.

Talking to North Korea may make sense, but at a lower level while maintaining "maximum pressure" sanctions.

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A summit in Asia would be closer to home for the notoriously reclusive Kim, and cities including Beijing, Singapore, Hanoi, or even Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia have been raised as possibilities.

Abe expressed support for talks with North Korea on condition that they are aimed at making Pyongyang give up its nuclear ambitions.

For his part, Chung thanked Xi for his "big role" in the diplomatic process that led to the "very positive changes". "The secretary has not spoken to the North Koreans".

Its lack of pizzazz, however, may not provide the backdrop Trump is seeking for his riskiest diplomatic gambit. One caveat - Kim is not known to have travelled outside North Korea since he took office in 2011. Others say the U.S. and North Korea may have entirely different expectations of the meeting.

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have also travelled to Pyongyang.

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Calm before the storm? North Korea still mum on Trump summit