President Trump says five locations will be considered for his expected summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. There are slightly surreal possibilities: Trump could travel to Pyongyang or Kim could come to the United States – maybe even skip Washington and drive to Florida's Mar-a-Lago or New York's Trump Tower.
In reality, it is unlikely that Americans or the North Korean side would be willing to allow the other side to host. Instead, it seems likely that the two countries will seek to find neutral ground. This could be symbolic somewhere, such as the "truce village" of the Korean Demilitarized Zone of Panmunjom or a boat in international waters.
Alternatively, they could turn to a third country that has good relations with Washington and Pyongyang. And here is one of the most interesting possibilities: Could Trump and Kim meet in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar?
Mongolia is certainly not the first country you think of when you think of major international diplomatic events. A landlocked country with only 3 million inhabitants, which is internationally known for Genghis Khan, Kashmir, and its status as a sparsely populated country on earth.
In fact, at first glance, many other third parties, whether they had neutralized major powers like Russia or China or smaller nations that had previously diplomatic trade such as Sweden or Switzerland, seem to be a more open-minded choice.
But the Mongol leadership quickly presented itself as a negotiating option when Trump announced it in early March. Former Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj claimed that his country was the "most suitable, neutral territory". Enkhbold Zandaakhuu, Chief of Staff of the current Mongolian President Khaltmaa Battulga, later met the North Korean Ambassador and the US envoy separately
Some experts in Mongolia also pushed the idea forward, with Julian Dierkes, a socialist and expert on the country at the university by British Columbia, who presents a catchy nickname for the planned event : The "Steppe Peak". Although Ulaanbaatar is silent for the moment, a Mongolian scholar who closely watched the Northeast Asian affairs said the possibility was still open (the scholar did not ask to be identified because of the involvement in the talks) said a possible summit)
There are some practical ones Reasons for a summit in Mongolia. The first one is simple: location. South Korea, China and Russia are all neighbors of North Korea, but there are considerable political reasons why the US and North Korea do not want them to be hosts. "We are the next and most neutral capital," said the scholar.
Somewhat further away to a place like Europe or even somewhere closer to Southeast Asia could pose another problem: Although Kim does not seem to be afraid of flying His father, North Korea's Soviet fleet of aircraft may not be on the journey. Kim could go somewhere with another nation, but he may not want it. As Victor Cha, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, David Nakamura of the Washington Post said: "It would be embarrassing."
The other transit option is of course the famous armored Green North Korea's train. Recently, Kim used this train, which was also loved by his father and grandfather, to visit Beijing, probably on his way to the capital through the Chinese cities of Dandong and Shenyang. It allows him to travel luxuriously and safely.
Here Mongolia is a real advantage. There are train lines that travel through China, or alternatively, Russia, which can reach Ulaanbaatar. If Kim decides to travel by train, there may not be a better option.
The geopolitical picture is also important. Ulaanbaatar has history with Pyongyang; Especially hundreds of children were evacuated to Mongolia during the Korean War. Mongolia was also the second nation that recognized North Korea. They were allies during the Cold War when both were under communist governments and both Kim's father and grandfather had visited Mongolia.
Things got a bit more difficult after the end of the Cold War – especially after Mongolia recognized South Korea in 1990. but in general they had a cordial relationship. Although the recent US sanctions have met with this relationship, Mongolia's Foreign Minister Tsogtbaatar Damdin visited Pyongyang two months ago.
At the same time, Mongolia has good relations with the United States. Although the two nations did not make contact until 1988, things have improved a lot since then. The United States has offered help and other support to a country that has long been dominated by its neighbors. When John F. Kerry was Secretary of State. He visited the country in 2016 and hailed the country as an "oasis of democracy" between his two neighbors China and Russia.
Hosting such a high profile event as the Trump Kim Summit would be in line with Mongolia's foreign policy ambitions. The country has already received similar events – including some "Track 1.5" events between North Korean officials and Western academics – and there are clear ambitions to use Mongolia's reputation as a neutral advantage.
There are also more practical concerns I thought there were as many as 35,000 Mongolians in South Korea – mostly outside Mongolia – and any conflict on the peninsula could not only ruin their livelihood, but perhaps also kill them.
And although the United States and Mongolia have a good relationship on paper, there are fears in Ulaanbaatar that they are an afterthought in Washington (for example, there is still no US ambassador for Mongolia). Hosting a summit is certainly a way to get more attention, especially with Mongolia hoping to find ways to increase trade with the United States in the future.
Are there any problems with the plan? Well, one of his greatest strengths may be his biggest weakness as well. While it is possible to get from Mongolia to Mongolia by train, it is not easy or fast.
Mendee Jargalsaikhan, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia who has been driving on a section of the railway, said in an email From Pyongyang, it would take 25 hours to get to Beijing and then 30 hours to Ulaanbaatar – a journey which also requires an adjustment of the train as the tracks in the two countries run on different gauges
Although China would probably clear the tracks for Kim, as they did when he visited Beijing in March, his heavily armored train is running slow so it can take even longer. Kim could also travel across Russia, which has the same gauge as Mongolia and would mean that the train could be adapted to the North Korean border. However, Mendee said it would probably be a much longer journey. "It would be a very long, tiresome ride for Kim," he said, unless Kim and Trump met in Choybalsan, a city of less than 40,000 people in the east of the country.
With only a month or two until the summit is expected Mongolia does not seem to be easy. However, it could be easier than the alternatives.
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