All eyes are on Singapore this week, where President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are scheduled to meet face-to-face for the first time ever. But, there's a delicate issue that still hasn't been entirely sorted out: Who's paying for the North Korea summit in Singapore? More specifically, the question concerns who will foot the bill for Kim's stay at a luxury resort.
Last week, The Washington Post reported that the United States was looking for a way to help cover costs without embarrassing North Korea. The reclusive country reportedly doesn't have much economic wiggle-room, and the presidential suite at the Fullerton, where Kim is staying reportedly costs upward of $6,000 a night.
But potential pitfalls to paying for Kim's room exceed simply causing social discomfort: There are many, many sanctions against North Korea, and covering the cost of a hotel stay could violate them.
"It is unlikely the United States will cover North Korea’s expenses," former U.S. Ambassador to Singapore David Adelman told Yahoo Finance. "Doing so likely would require a waiver of strict sanctions in place. Perhaps more importantly, to have the United States cover North Korea’s expenses might be considered a loss of face, which North Korea would want to avoid."
In order to avoid risking embarrassing North Korea or running into any potential legal snafus, The Post reported that U.S. officials planned to ask Singapore to cover the cost of the stay. However, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told The Post that they are not making such a request. She further addressed the issue at a press briefing on June 5.
"The United States government is not paying for the North Korean delegation to stay," Nauert said during a department press briefing. "We’re not paying for their expenses. The White House has spoken to this as well. The State Department isn’t involved in — is not involved in every single technical detail of this meeting. This is largely being planned out of the White House with State Department support."
When asked by reporters if Singapore would be covering costs, Time reports that Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen responded, "Obviously yes, but it is a cost that we’re willing to bear to play a small part in this historic meeting."
Adelman explained some of the reasoning to Yahoo Finance. "Singapore’s role as host of the summit comes with significant expenses, including extensive security measures," he said. "For Singapore, the benefits of hosting the summit clearly outweigh the costs. Singapore understands the value of being a good global citizen. Hosting the summit further develops Singapore’s reputation as a place where East meets West."
North Korea has sought a meeting with a sitting U.S. president for decades, but this week's summit marks the first time that the reclusive state has successfully finagled one. Previously, presidents have only agreed to meet with North Korean leaders once they have left office — like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. And now, Singapore was a strategically selected location.
"Singapore was selected because they have been willing to hold it, and because they have diplomatic relations with both the U.S. and North Korea. They are one of very few countries that have relationships with both countries," an unnamed White House official reportedly told CNBC last week.
The main topic at hand is North Korean denuclearization, though the outcome of the conversation is difficult to predict. North Korea's weapons program is one of the few tools it has to stave off international pressures, and it's unlikely that Kim will jump at the chance to give that up. Additionally, tensions have flared between the two world leaders many times over the past year, making it difficult to know how a meeting between them will play out. No one will know for sure until it's well underway, or even over.