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North Korea

Is the Trump-Kim meeting in DMZ anything more than photo opportunity?

  • President Trump met North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un in an impromptu meeting in the demilitarised zone

  • It was a calculated gamble for Trump, but could also play well for Kim Jong-un at home

  • For Kim, the meeting serves as both a distraction at home and a chance to keep its presence on the world stage

Is the Trump-Kim meeting in DMZ anything more than photo opportunity?
Stuart Culverhouse
Stuart Culverhouse

Head of Sovereign & Fixed Income Research

Tellimer Research
30 June 2019
Published by

US President Trump met North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un today in an impromptu meeting in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. It was a calculated gamble for President Trump, extending an invitation to meet at short notice through social media on his way back from the G20 meeting in Japan, but it could also play well for Kim Jong-un at home. North Korea is experiencing a food crisis following its worst drought for nearly four decades, and the meeting serves as both a distraction at home and a chance to keep its presence on the world stage.

Historic, but largely symbolic

In what was a historic but largely symbolic meeting, Trump crossed the line into North Korea, becoming the first sitting US president to enter North Korea since the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953. Kim then followed Trump back to the South Korean side of the border, greeted by South Korean President Moon Jae-in. It was their third meeting, but the first since the breakdown of talks at their Summit in Vietnam in February; in the meantime, Kim has met both Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi, and tested a number of short-range missiles.

Side by side, by still far apart

The meeting between the US and North Korean leaders might kickstart talks between the two sides after the failure in Vietnam, and possibly open the door for another Summit in future. But other than providing Trump with a historic photo opportunity in his 2020 presidential election campaign, in which he can claim the title of the first US President to visit North Korea, and what diplomats will call an opportunity to deepen relations between the two countries (although what they can achieve in a meeting which lasted only a few minutes is debatable), it will do little of itself to advance the denuclearisation process. On this, the two sides still seem far apart, with the US demanding a clear and verifiable path to full denuclearisation, and only then the lifting of sanctions, while North Korea wants sanctions relief, with a step-by-step approach in which denuclearisation moves are matched by concessions.