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North Korea Crisis

Singapore to play impartial host to June 12 Trump-Kim summit

Proximity to Pyongyang worked in favor of Southeast Asian nation

The Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore. The Southeast Asian city-state has the accommodations and infrastructure needed for a high-profile summit.   © Reuters

SEOUL/SINGAPORE -- Singapore will provide the stage for historic talks between a sitting U.S. president and the North Korean leader next month, a feat for a city-state that has worked hard to develop a reputation for diplomatic neutrality.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday that he will meet with Kim Jong Un there on June 12. Other possible hosts had included the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas; Pyongyang, reportedly the North's preferred choice; Geneva; and the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar.

Some European countries, including Switzerland, where Kim studied as a student, and Sweden, which had represented the U.S. in past diplomatic engagements with the North, were considered initially as possible venues.

Singapore ultimately got the nod for its professed role as an honest broker, a reputation the country has assiduously cultivated through evenhanded diplomacy. This impartiality was why it was picked to host the first-ever meeting between the leaders of Taiwan and mainland China in November 2015.

Trump had indicated an interest in holding talks in Panmunjom after last month's North-South summit there. But he ruled out the possibility on Wednesday, which an American diplomatic insider chalked up to concern about that choice of location being seen as a concession to North Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Pyongyang on May 9.   © KCNA via Reuters

Singapore maintains friendly relations with Washington and Pyongyang, which both have embassies in the country, and has plenty of experience holding international gatherings. American and North Korean negotiators met there in 2008 in connection with the six-party talks on denuclearizing the North.

Though Kim would need to fly to the island nation, it is closer than other proposed neutral meeting points. Kim traveled by plane to his summit this week with Xi in Dalian, China -- his first such flight as leader -- in a possible trial run for talks with Trump in Singapore.

Singapore also offers tight security as well as the accommodations and transportation infrastructure needed for a high-profile summit. The U.S. had pushed to hold the Trump-Kim meeting there, and North Korea indicated an openness to the idea, given its diplomatic relations with the country.

The decision to schedule the summit for mid-June, rather than late May as originally expected, suggests that the two sides did not reach common ground on such issues as the denuclearization process until recently.

(from Trump's Twitter account)

The June 12 date puts the meeting soon after the Group of Seven summit to be held on June 8 and June 9 in Canada, which would give Trump an opportunity to explain his approach to the talks to the assembled leaders of major developed countries. The aim may be to reach agreement with allies before going into the meeting with Kim.

"We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!" Trump wrote on Thursday morning of the summit with Kim. The announcement came just hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned to Washington from meeting with Kim in Pyongyang.

The secretary of state said in his May 2 swearing-in ceremony that the U.S. is committed to the "permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantling of North Korea's weapons-of-mass-destruction program and to do so without delay."

Nikkei staff writer Ariana King in New York contributed to this story.

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