Trump surprises North Korea with offer to meet Kim at border

US President Donald Trump's offer to meet Kim Jong Un represents a change from his previous position. (Reuters/File)
Updated 03 July 2019

Trump surprises North Korea with offer to meet Kim at border

  • South Korea optimistic about prospects of more denuclearization dialogue
  • North Korea suggested it would dismantle the main nuclear complex in Yongbyon in return for the relief of sanctions

SEOUL: US President Donald Trump made a surprise offer on Saturday by inviting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to a meeting at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

“After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China, I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon),” said Trump in a tweet at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. “While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”

Trump confirmed his visit to the border during his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying he “put out a feeler” to Kim to see if he would like to meet. “We’re going there,” Trump said, “If he’s there, we’ll see each other for two minutes.”

Trump’s offer to meet Kim represents a change from his previous opposition to meeting with the North Korean leader during his visit to South Korea on June 29 to 30. Pyongyang quickly responded to Trump’s request.

“We see it as a very interesting suggestion, but we have not received an official proposal in this regard,” said Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, in a statement issued by North Korea’s Central News Agency two hours after Trump’s tweet.  

“If the US-North Korea meetings take place on the division line, as is intended by President Trump, it would serve as another meaningful occasion in deepening the personal relations between the two leaders and advancing bilateral relations.” Trump and Kim have touted their special relationship since their first summit in Singapore in June 2018, though their second summit at Hanoi in February collapsed.

North Korea suggested it would dismantle the main nuclear complex in Yongbyon in return for the relief of sanctions, but the US demanded an end to all other nuclear activities, such as a uranium enrichment program, before sanctions could be lifted.

Trump and Kim exchanged friendly letters following the stalled denuclearization process. However, North Korea’s testing of short-range guided missiles last month off the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula has weakened the recovering relationship.

Shin Beom-cheol, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said there was a chance Trump and Kim would meet.

“I think there’s a chance that Trump and Kim will meet at the DMZ on June 30 through the so-called New York channel,” he said. “There’s also a possibility that South Korean President Moon Jae-in will join the DMZ encounter.”  

President Moon was optimistic about the prospects of more denuclearization dialogue.

During his meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the G20 summit Moon said: “Trump’s visit to South Korea will be an opportunity for the US-North Korea dialogue to be resumed, which will boost the Korea Peace Process.”

Moon also met Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss peace in the Korean peninsula.

In a statement, the Blue House said: “The leaders of South Korea and Russia shared assessments of security conditions surrounding the peninsula. They agreed that it is an important time for progress in the peaceful approach towards North Korea and substantive progress is needed in the resumption of US-North Korea talks.”

Moon also held a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who conveyed a message of commitment to the denuclearization process. 

After returning to South Korea, Moon greeted Trump, who arrived at an American airbase in Osan for a dinner.

The two leaders are set to hold a summit today.

Berlin celebrates postwar visitor program for expelled Jews

Updated 15 September 2019

Berlin celebrates postwar visitor program for expelled Jews

  • The program has brought people like Melmed on one-week trips to Berlin to reacquaint themselves with the city
  • The “invitation program for former refugees” has brought back primarily Jewish emigrants who fled the Nazis

BERLIN: Berlin was the last place Helga Melmed had expected to see again. She was 14 when the Nazis forced her and her family onto a train from their home in the German capital to the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland, in 1941.

That started a gruesome odyssey that later saw her imprisoned at Auschwitz and Neuengamme outside Hamburg before she was finally freed by British soldiers in 1945 from Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany, a 46-pound walking skeleton.

For years, she never considered returning to Germany until she was invited on a trip by the city of her birth, in a reconciliation program meant to help mend ties with former Berliners who had been forced out by the Nazis.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the program has successfully brought people like Melmed on one-week trips to Berlin to reacquaint themselves with the city.

Some 35,000 people have accepted the invitation since it was first issued in 1969, and while the numbers are dwindling a few new participants still come every year.

“I thought I’d never come back,” Melmed, 91, who emigrated to the US via Sweden after the war, told The Associated Press in an interview.

The “invitation program for former refugees” has brought back primarily Jewish emigrants who fled the Nazis, or those like Melmed who survived their machinery of genocide.

On Wednesday, she and other former program participants were invited to Berlin City Hall to celebrate the half-century anniversary.

At a ceremony mayor Michael Mueller thanked them for coming back — despite all they suffered at the hands of the Germans.
“Many people followed our invitation, people who had lost everything they loved,” he said. “I want to express my strong gratitude to you for putting your trust in us.”

Despite skepticism at the time that anyone persecuted by the Nazis would want to return, in 1970 — one year after the program’s launch — there was already a waiting list of 10,000 former Berliners who wanted to come back for a visit.

More than 100 other German cities and towns have instituted similar programs but no municipality has brought back as many former residents as the capital.

Berlin, of course, also had the biggest Jewish community before the Holocaust. In 1933, the year the Nazis came to power, around 160,500 Jews lived in Berlin. By the end of World War II in 1945 their numbers had diminished to about 7,000 — through emigration and extermination.

All in all, some six million European Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Melmed’s father was shot dead in the Lodz ghetto — where the Nazis concentrated Jews and forced them to work in factories — a few months after their arrival and her mother died of exhaustion a few months later, shortly after Melmed’s 15th birthday.

Melmed, who lives in Venice, Florida, received her invitation under the reconciliation program 42 years ago. “One day, out of the blue, I found a letter in the mailbox inviting me to come back for a visit,” the retired nurse said at the hotel where she was staying with two of her four children and a grandson.

“So, in 1977, my husband and I traveled to Berlin.” They were part of an organized group tour of dozens of other former Berliners who had been persecuted by the Nazis.

“I don’t know if the trip was a dream or a nightmare,” Melmed said. One afternoon, she went for a coffee at Berlin’s famous Kempinski Hotel — today called the Bristol Hotel — just like she used to do as a little girl with her mother and dad, a banking executive.
“It was heart-breaking,” Melmed said.

Her life story is chronicled in the exhibition “Charter Flight into the Past” about the program, which opened Thursday at Berlin’s City Hall and will run through Oct. 9.

Johannes Tuchel, the director of the German Resistance Memorial Center, which curated the exhibition, said that many returnees had conflicting emotions.

They didn’t trust the Germans — especially in the early years of the program, when many people they saw in the streets still belonged to the Nazi generation. Often, memories of loss and pain were stirred up by the visit, but at the same time many were also able to reconnect with a city that harbored many happy childhood mementos for them.

For Melmed, closure came only at an old age. In 2018, when she turned 90, she decided to return once again to Berlin. It was then that she met the current tenants of her old family home in the Wilmersdorf neighborhood of Berlin.

They invited her back into the apartment and organized a plaque-laying ceremony last week to commemorate her parents on this year’s visit.

Last week, city officials presented her with her original birth certificate and her parents’ marriage certificate. “Now it’s all closure for me,” Melmed said with a peaceful smile as she touched her golden necklace with a Star of David pendant. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”