×

Sweden, Mongolia, Pyongyang and more: Where a Trump-Kim summit could take place

  • Washington and Pyongyang are carefully considering locations for a planned summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un.
  • "The meeting location will be the result of compromise, carefully chosen so as not to provide propaganda fodder for either side," said one analyst.
  • Potential choices include Sweden, Scandinavia and Mongolia.
A television news report showing pictures of President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a railway station in Seoul on March 9, 2018.
Jung Yeon-Je | AFP | Getty Images
A television news report showing pictures of President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a railway station in Seoul on March 9, 2018.

As the White House and Pyongyang prepare for a historic summit, one of the biggest logistical sticking points is location.

President Donald Trump and North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un are expected to sit down face to face in May or June to discuss the rogue state's nuclear weapons program in what will be the first meeting between sitting U.S. and North Korean leaders. Where the landmark encounter takes place is a crucial component of the summit, strategists told CNBC.

"These are two parties that both value symbolism and optics, and I cannot imagine any one of them will give in easily and cede ground on the location issue," said Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, associate scholar at Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based think tank.

Mike Pompeo, Trump's pick for secretary of state, and Kim reportedly spent the most time on this issue during their recent meeting, which is "very telling for how much it matters," Silberstein continued.

Trump, this week, said there were five places being considered, but didn't provide any further details.

"The meeting location will be the result of compromise, carefully chosen so as not to provide propaganda fodder for either side," said Miha Hribernik, senior Asia analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. "The end result will likely be a venue in a third country without a direct security stake on the Korean Peninsula."

Here are a few potential locations for the high-stakes negotiations:

Western Europe

Sources familiar with the talks have told various news outlets that Sweden and Switzerland are among the places being considered by the White House. A senior North Korean foreign minister traveled to Stockholm and Helsinki for diplomatic talks last month but it's not clear whether the summit was on the agenda.

A Wednesday editorial in China's state-run newspaper The Global Times dismissed that prospect, saying "North Korea won't choose a Western country as Kim's safety could not be fully guaranteed." The summit location must be in a country where North Korea's security interests are assured, the editorial warned.

Many analysts, however, said it's entirely possible for Kim to accept politically neutral countries like Sweden, Finland or Switzerland.

Pyongyang

For Kim, the North Korean capital is likely his top choice.

"The North Koreans have hinted that they would love to have it in Pyongyang, that would show to the world that even the United States president is willing to come to North Korea," said Rodger Baker, vice president of strategic analysis at advisory firm Stratfor. "It puts North Korea as clearly an equal with the other big powers."

The White House, conscious of those power dynamics, isn't expected to give Kim that advantage.

While Trump may favor Pyongyang because of the grand welcome he would receive, "the optics of a U.S. president traveling to Pyongyang to meet North Korea's leader — almost like paying tribute to him, or that's at least how North Korean propaganda would portray it — may too obviously be too much for the U.S. to bear," said Silberstein.

Panmunjom

Known as the "truce village" sitting in the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea, Panmunjom is the only place in the fortified area where soldiers from both countries near one another.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In is set to meet Kim in Panmunjom on April 27 and, according to Stratfor's Baker, it's possible that Trump and Kim could also choose to meet there. The Moon-Kim summit "would be a test of that as a viable space," he said.

China/Russia

Kim's government may have offered a Chinese city, such as Beijing, or the Russian port city of Vladivostok as potential choices, according to the Global Times editorial, because both places provide the North with security guarantees.

But that's unlikely to sit well with Washington.

"Beijing and Vladivostok are contenders, but unlikely to be selected," said Hribernik. The U.S. is currently experiencing frosty ties with China and Russia so it will "almost certainly not allow" either to stage manage such a historic meeting, he continued.

Ulaanbaatar

The Mongolian capital, which borders Russia and China, is in the running due to its easy accessibility by train or plane from North Korea, according to Hribernik.

Mongolia also has diplomatic relations with both Pyongyang and Washington, making it a more likely candidate over a Chinese or Russian city, added Silberstein.