US President Donald Trump heads for the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas Sunday and a possible impromptu summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in what would be a remarkable diplomatic spectacle.
Mr. Kim "very much wants" to meet, Mr. Trump said on Sunday after he turned to Twitter to invite him to a third diplomatic date after their first two encounters in Singapore and Hanoi.
"Let's see what happens," the US President told business leaders in Seoul."We are trying to work it out. It will be very short but that's OK. A handshake means a lot."
Their first meeting last year took place in a blaze of publicity, the first-ever encounter between a leader of the nuclear-armed North and a sitting US president, whose forces and their allies fought each other to a stalemate in the 1950-53 Korean War.
That summit produced a vaguely-worded pledge about denuclearisation, but a second meeting in Vietnam in February intended to put flesh on those bones broke up without agreement.
Contact between the two sides has since been minimal -- with Pyongyang issuing frequent criticisms of the US position -- but the two leaders have exchanged a series of letters.
"If Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!," Mr. Trump tweeted on Saturday from Osaka in Japan, where he was attending a G20 summit before flying to Seoul.
He later said he would have "no problem" stepping into the North with Kim -- in what would be a dramatic re-enactment of the extraordinary scene last year when the young leader invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to walk over the Military Demarcation Line that divides the Koreas.
But it was still not clear on Sunday whether Mr. Kim would attend the rendezvous.
In an unusually fast and public response, within hours of Mr. Trump's tweet the North's official KCNA news agency quoted Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui as saying the offer was "a very interesting suggestion" but that no official request had been received.
Koryo Tours, the market leader for Western tourism to the North, said the DMZ was closed to visitors on the northern side Sunday, in a potential sign of an official event.
But at talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in -- who will be accompanying him to the DMZ -- Trump cautioned: "It's very complicated from the standpoint of logistics and security and lots of other reasons but both teams are working very hard."
Mr. Moon -- who seized on last year's Winter Olympics to broker the process between Pyongyang and Washington, after tensions soared in 2017 amid missile and nuclear tests and mutual insults -- said Mr. Trump's invitation to Mr. Kim showed the "flower of hope was fully blossoming on the Korean Peninsula".
'Barren no-man's land'
A meeting in the DMZ would make a powerful visual statement, but analysts were divided over its potential impact.
The four-km-wide (2.5 miles) zone, running for 250 kilometres, is where the front line lay when the Korean War ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, and is described as the world's last Cold War frontier.
John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul said an encounter in the "barren no man's land that embodies the unhealed wound of post-WWII division, the Korean War, and 70 years of animosity" would help improve ties.
"It's not just about denuclearisation and it's not all about a deal -- important as those are," he said. "If Trump and Kim meet & can announce some kind of interim agreement, that's great. If they meet and don't, that's ok too. If in the end they don't meet, it's good that Trump offered to."
However, Robert Kelly of Pusan National University derided Trump's invitation as "emblematic of why the Trump NK effort is a farce: thrown-together; last-minute; made-for-TV".
It was driven by the US president's "lust for optics and drama rather than substance" and "a photo-op for the 2020 election", he tweeted.
The DMZ has been a regular stop for US presidents visiting the South, a security ally -- although Mr. Trump's helicopter was forced to turn back by fog in 2017 -- while Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim held their first two summits last year at Panmunjom, a "truce village" on the border.
The Hanoi meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim foundered amid disagreements on what the North -- which has carried out five nuclear tests and developed missiles capable of reaching the entire US mainland -- would be willing to give up in exchange for relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy.