Trump agrees to meet with Kim
President Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by May in an effort to see North Korea abandon its nuclear ambitions, South Korea’s national security adviser said Thursday night.
Chung Eui-yong made the announcement during a brief and hastily arranged statement outside the White House after meeting with Trump and administration officials, saying Trump accepted the meeting in order “to achieve permanent denuclearization.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump “will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined.” A senior official said the administration was still working on details such as an appropriate place to meet.
“We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea,” Sanders said in a statement shortly after the South Korean announcement. “In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain.”
Trump also took to Twitter to emphasize that “sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached” over North Korea’s nuclear program, saying that Kim discussed “denuclearization” with South Korean officials and would not test missiles during talks.
“Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!” he tweeted.
During a background call with reporters, a senior administration official emphasized that the agreed-upon meeting between Trump and Kim stopped short of negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea.
“At this point we’re not even talking about negotiations,” the official said. “What we’re talking about is an invitation by the leader of North Korea to meet face-to-face with the president of the United States.”
Chung led a South Korean delegation earlier in the week on a historic trip to Pyongyang. During the trip, the envoys became the first South Korean officials to meet with Kim since he took power in 2011.
On Tuesday, the South Korean envoys announced that Kim told them he is willing to begin negotiations with the United States on abandoning nuclear weapons and that he would suspend all nuclear and missile tests while engaged in talks.
The Trump administration and lawmakers greeted the offer cautiously, expressing both hope that talks can happen and skepticism at Kim’s sincerity.
If Trump follows through on meeting with Kim, he would become the first sitting U.S. president to ever meet with a North Korean leader, though past American presidents have met with North Korean leaders after leaving office.
In 1994, former President Jimmy Carter met with Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, to negotiate a return to dialogue between the United States and North Korea. In 2009, former President Bill Clinton met with Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, to secure the release of two detained American journalists.
Skeptics of engaging in talks with the North Koreans have in the past pointed to previous attempts to make a deal with Pyongyang that ultimately failed after the North Koreans received concessions such as sanctions relief.
For example, the 1994 Agreed Framework got North Korea to freeze its plutonium production for a time, but eventually fell apart during the George W. Bush administration after U.S. intelligence discovered North Korea was secretly pursuing technology for a uranium enrichment program.
The Trump administration official said Thursday that this time would be different, as Trump will not lift sanctions just to meet with Kim.
“If we look at the history of these negotiations that have taken place under prior administrations, they have often led to the relinquishing of pressure,” the official said. “They’ve often led to concessions being made to North Korea in return for talks. President Trump has been very clear from the beginning that he is not prepared to reward North Korea in exchange for talks.”
Trump had touted the announcement of an agreed-to meeting with Kim on Thursday night to reporters at the White House before it was delivered by the South Korean official, characterizing it as “major.”
“It’s almost beyond that,” Trump told ABC News’s Jonathan Karl when asked if the announcement was about negotiations. “Hopefully, you will give me credit.”
No White House officials appeared alongside Chung as he delivered the announcement, in which he said he conveyed to Trump that “his leadership and maximum pressure policy together with international solidarity” brought parties to the verge of talks.
“I expressed President Moon Jae-in’s personal gratitude for President Trump’s leadership,” Chung added.
The South Korean official also reiterated what he had said earlier in the week about Kim’s message in their meeting: that’s he’s committed to denuclearization, will refrain from testing during talks and understands the need for joint U.S.-South Korean military drills that are likely to be held next month.
“Along with President Trump, we are optimistic about continuing a diplomatic process to test the possibility of a peaceful resolution,” Chung said. “The Republic of Korea, the United States and our partners stand together in insisting that we not repeat the mistakes of the past, and that the pressure will continue until North Korea matches these words with concrete actions.”
Thursday’s announcement was a remarkable turnaround after months of escalating threats between Trump and Kim.
Less than two months ago, Trump boasted that his nuclear button was “much bigger” than North Korea’s, and in August he warned that North Korean threats to the United States could lead to “fire and fury” like the world has never seen.
Trump has also referred to Kim as “rocket man.” North Korea has called Trump a “dotard.”
In addition to Trump and Chung, Thursday’s meeting included South Korean intelligence director Suh Hoon, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, chief of staff John Kelly, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel, according to a senior administration official.
Trump also spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday night, the official added.
Updated: 8:45 p.m.