WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has accepted an offer of a summit from the North Korean leader and will meet with Kim Jong Un by May, a top South Korean official said Thursday, in a remarkable turnaround in relations between two historic adversaries.
The South Korean national security director, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters of the planned meeting outside the White House, after briefing Trump and other top US officials about a rare meeting with Kim in the North Korean capital on Monday.
The White House confirmed the meeting shortly after.
“President Trump greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and President Moon. He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined. We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain,” spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
No serving American president has ever met with a North Korean leader. The US and North Korea do not even have formal diplomatic relations. The two nations remain in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.
Seoul had already publicized that North Korea had offered talks with the United States on denuclearization and normalizing ties, providing a diplomatic opening after a year of escalating tensions over the North’s nuclear and missile tests. The rival Koreas also agreed to hold a leadership summit in late April.
“He (Kim) expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible,” Chung said. “President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.”
Chung did not say where Trump would meet with Kim.
Trump took office vowing to stop North Korea from attaining a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland. He’s oscillated between threats and insults directed at Kim, and more conciliatory rhetoric. His more bellicose talk, and Kim’s nuclear and missile tests, have fueled fears of war.
Trump, who has ramped up economic sanctions on North Korea to force it to negotiate on giving up its nukes, has threatened the pariah nation with “fire and fury” if its threats against the US and its allies continued. He has derided Kim by referring to him as “Little Rocket Man.”
After Kim repeated threats against the US in a New Year’s address and mentioned the “nuclear button” on his office desk, Trump responded by tweeting that he has a nuclear button, too, “but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
On Tuesday, Trump had expressed both hope and skepticism about a reported offer of talks, which has yet to be confirmed, at least publicly, by the isolated North Korean government. While the path to a diplomatic resolution over the North’s nuclear arsenal would be long and difficult, talks could dampen fears of war breaking out over what represents an emerging threat to the US mainland.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday in Ethiopia that the US has seen “potentially positive signals” from North Korea, but the adversaries are still a long way from holding negotiations.