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Trump should go to Pyongyang.

Would U.S. President Donald Trump go to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang for the summit with Kim Jong-un in May?

Would Kim risk leaving his comfort zone to travel to Scandinavia or even Beijing to meet Trump?

Unless one of the two makes a concession, differences over the venue could be the stumbling block to the biggest chance so far of ending the North Korean nuclear stalemate.

For Trump, going to Pyongyang would make him a potential hostage to his sworn enemy.

After all, the U.S. President has vowed to destroy the North or threatened to rain fire and fury on the "little rocket man."

It is natural for Trump to be cautious and his aides are against him going behind enemy lines.

True, the U.S. could dispatch an armada of aircraft carriers and a fleet of strategic aircraft to near the North, sending an unmistakable message that if Pyongyang messes with Trump, the North will face the consequences.

Although the North often behaves in a way that raises questions about its sanity, would it be so crazy as to take Trump hostage?

Toward the end of his presidency, Bill Clinton tried to visit Pyongyang to seal a nuclear nonproliferation deal with Kim Jong-il, the present leader's father.

Clinton's successor, George W. Bush, disapproved of such a visit and it did not happen.

Now is of course different from then.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had visited Pyongyang in October 2000, while Jo Myung-rok, the second-most powerful man in the North, met Clinton in Washington in the October. The exchange of visits laid the ground for Clinton's proposed visit to Pyongyang, which never happened.

Before this, the Clinton administration had overcome an itch to bomb the North for its defiant nuclear program.

The administration was trying to give a final push to make permanent its then six-year-old Agreed Framework, under which the North would freeze its nuclear programs in return for a light-water reactor that was less able to produce plutonium, a key ingredient for nuclear devices.

In other words, Clinton was desperate to make a North Korea deal part of his legacy, taking advantage of Pyongyang-Washington trust.

Trump does not have Clinton's desperation or trust of the North. But he does have his own rather personal need that beats his partisan Republican royalty _ being recognized by his many naysayers and strengthening his chance of re-election.

From Kim Jong-un's standpoint, he has greater reasons to stay at home that are more important than the advantages of hosting a summit.

With only a handful of years under his belt as leader, Kim would most likely be haunted by a fear of a rebellion the instant he leaves his seat of power.

True, there are signs that he has consolidated power by cold-blooded, frequent purges, demoting top aides, promoting them and then switching things again, and eliminating potential sources of challenge _ his self-exiled elder half-brother and his uncle.

Even Kim Jong-il _ who ascended to power after years of apprenticeship under his father Kim Il-sung _ rarely left the country. He was afraid of flying and preferred to travel by train.

The young Kim has more reasons to suspect that there are many forces outside his country ready to pounce and assassinate him if he leaves.

The Americans and the Japanese would be happy to see him go, along with the direct nuclear threat. China would be keen to have a substitute fill the vacuum and ensure the continuation of the status quo. South Koreans would take Kim's ouster ambivalently _ with the fear of instability and the hope of lasting peace.

Back in his country, few could miss him and his nuclear threats enough to press for the return of their leader. The world would be happy to see another nettlesome dictator go. Therefore, would Kim leave, entrusting his kingdom, his wife and children to his aides?

All said and done, Trump would be in a better position to go to Pyongyang than Kim would to leave his home base. If the two sides persist on their original stances, there could be no summit. But Trump would feel tempted to go to Pyongyang and claim his place in history.

The chance is that the two will meet somewhere near Kim's home, say, Panmunjom, the truce village that will be the venue for the inter-Korean summit in late April. That would be a letdown, though.
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Date:Mar 23, 2018
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