Bangkok, Hanoi and Hawaii have been visited by White House scouting teams as they search for a location for a potential second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, according to a source familiar with the planning process.
On Sunday, Trump said that the US is “negotiating a location” for a second summit with Kim and the two had spoken “indirectly.”
The US has not decided on a top pick and the list, which could expand, has not yet been presented to the North Koreans. There have not been any meetings between the US and North Korean officials in these locations yet, according to the source.
Working level discussions will be required to pick a date and location but getting both parties to the table has proved to be a challenge. Late last year a planned meeting in New York City between the US and North Korea was canceled and there is no future meeting on the calendar. Stephen Biegun, the US special representative to North Korea, has not met with his counterpart one-on-one since taking the job, though he did travel to Pyongyang with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in October.
The State Department would not say when the next round of working level talks will happen but claimed that there are still open lines of communication.
“Discussions are ongoing,” a State Department spokesperson told CNN. “There will be many follow-up discussions until we reach our desired goal. Not all will be announced or read out.”
Some experts worry that hosting the summit in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi would send the wrong message because it invites a comparison between North Korea and Vietnam. Kim does not want to emulate another communist country’s efforts to modernize its economy, experts say. Kim is wary to invite outside investment, which he believes could disrupt his grip on power.
Pompeo has called Vietnam-US engagement after the Vietnam War a “miracle” and pointed to it as an example of the path that North Korea could follow if they abandon their nuclear program. He has stated that the Vietnamese economy has greatly benefited from increased trade with the US, which grew by 8000% in the last two decades.
“The fact that we are cooperating – and not fighting – is proof that when a country decides to create a brighter future for itself alongside the United States, we follow through on American promises,” Pompeo said during a trip to Hanoi last summer. “In light of the once-unimaginable prosperity and partnership we have with Vietnam today, I have a message for Chairman Kim Jong Un: President Trump believes your country can replicate this path.”
It is believed that Bangkok would not be flat out dismissed. Thailand has diplomatic ties with North Korea and similarly to Singapore, where Trump and Kim met in June of last year, Pyongyang would be able to send in teams that could be based at the embassy in the city ahead of time to conduct planning. That is not the case for Hawaii.
“The thing that would make Hawaii difficult is that there is no DPRK embassy there,” said Joe Yun, the former US State Department special representative for North Korea and a CNN contributor. “Within the US, New York is possible because there is a North Korea mission there. That is the same in parts of Europe like Geneva and Stockholm.”
The North Koreans have said that they would like the summit to be in Pyongyang but it is highly unlikely that the US would agree to that.