Trump May Avoid Embarassing Kim Jong-un in Mongolia Meeting

A cartoon with caricatures of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un
Cartoon by Roberto Pirola/123RF

Where will Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un meet? The matter is still under discussion and will probably be decided by the fact that Kim Jong-un has only one very old airplane at his disposal.

You will recall that two weeks ago when Kim went to Beijing to visit Xi Jinping, the leader of China, he took a train. It would have been a three-hour flight if he had flown, but that one airplane, a Russian Ilyushin Il-62, is suspect. He’s never used it. So he goes everywhere by train. Indeed, he has put armor around his private train for when he travels. That’s his train. It slows it down, but it’s safe and it still gets you there—he got to Beijing, for example, in 25 hours.

Well, nobody wants to embarrass Kim.

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This is why it appears the meeting place might be in the capital of Mongolia, Ulan Bator. Mongolia has offered to host. It’s near enough. Kim could get there on his train in 46 hours. That might work.

That old Russian aircraft might have connections with the Hamptons. Andy Sabin of Amagansett has for many years traveled all over the world by plane, conducting business. He owns a big factory in upstate New York that takes in scrap metal and chemical waste from factories around the world and reprocesses it to extract the gold, platinum and other metals and minerals that can be used for other purposes. It’s an industrial operation, but it is also recycling.

In the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union was going through the hard time that eventually caused it to collapse, the only way that he could travel behind the Iron Curtain to meet with factory owners was on Aeroflot, the Soviet airline. Andy had been on Aeroflot jets for many years by then.

The Ilyushin Il-62 was one of them. But now, in 1989, the Soviets were having trouble getting spare parts and there were occasional reports of Aeroflot planes crashing. But he still had to get around. It was very dicey.

“I’d read about things like this in the papers,” he told me. “One plane ran off the runway as it was coming in for a landing. Turned out that during an earlier maintenance check they found they were out of brake fluid. So they tried lemonade.

“Then this happened to me personally. About 150 of us were led out onto the runway to board an Aeroflot jet bound for Leningrad. The plane taxied out to one end of the runway and turned around. There the pilot revved up the engines like pilots always do, but in this case, he revved up the engines a second time. Then he came on the public address system.

“’I don’t like how these engines sound,’ he said. ‘We’re going back to the terminal so I can get another plane.’ And he did. So we all got off the airplane and waited inside for a while, while they took this plane away and wheeled up another one. Then we all boarded that one.

“Again, we went down to the end of the runway and the pilot turned the plane around. He revved up the engines, and then he revved them up a second time. We figured he was just being sure. But then he came on the PA system again. ‘I liked the other plane better,’ he said.

“Well, when he got back to the terminal, we all got off that one and then every one of us would not get on the other one. The flight was cancelled. That was all they had.”

Shortly after Andy told me this story, the Soviet Union collapsed, and it was now possible to fly Boeing commercial jets throughout the former Soviet Union. But Andy had something better for a while. In one of the former Soviet states—Kazakhstan, I think it was—the new president of that country presented Andy with a medal for the service he was providing for their scrap metal.

And he also gave Andy the use of his private jet. Now that was a long time ago and I don’t know what came of it. But maybe that’s the one that Kim doesn’t want to try flying in to meet Trump.

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