President Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks by the end of May, an extraordinary development following months of heightened nuclear tension during which the two leaders exchanged frequent military threats and insults.
Kim has also committed to stopping nuclear and missile testing, even during joint military drills in South Korea next month, Chung Eui-yong, the South Korean national security adviser, told reporters at the White House on Thursday. Chung extended the invitation from Kim to meet while briefing Trump on the four-hour dinner he had with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang on Monday.
After a year in which North Korea fired intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching all of the United States and tested what is widely thought to have been a hydrogen bomb, such a moratorium would be welcomed by the United States and the world.
But there is also significant risk for Trump in agreeing to a meeting apparently without the kind of firm preconditions sought by previous U.S. administrations. There has never been a face-to-face meeting, or even a phone call, between sitting leaders of the two nations because American presidents have been wary of offering the Kim regime the validation of a leaders-level summit on the global stage.
A senior White House official said the North Korean leader’s message included a “commitment to denuclearization” and emphasized that the United States would demand verification that the North is meeting its obligations in any prospective deal. Trump told aides that, leading up to the talks, he expects them to maintain the severe economic sanctions imposed on the North over the past year by his administration and the United Nations, the official said.
South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong announced on March 8 that President Trump has agreed to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by May. (Reuters)
The news stunned Washington’s political leadership and foreign policy analysts who as recently as last month were fretting over the possibility of a military conflagration on the Korean Peninsula. Trump and Kim have spent the past year making belligerent statements about each other, with Trump mocking Kim as “Little Rocket Man” and pledging to “totally destroy” North Korea and Kim calling the American president a “dotard” and a “lunatic” and threatening to send nuclear bombs to Washington, D.C.
But renewed dialogue between North and South Korea leading up to and during the Olympics last month offered an opening. Kim has “expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible,” Chung told reporters during a brief statement outside the White House after emerging from the meeting with Trump.
“President Trump said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May,” Chung said, but he did not provide any information on where the meeting would be. In Seoul, the presidential Blue House clarified that the meeting would occur by the end of May.
There was no immediate word on where a meeting would be held, although it would be unprecedented if it took place outside the Korean Peninsula.
The White House confirmed that Trump had accepted Kim’s invitation, which came as a message from Chung rather than in a letter from the North Korean leader. “President Trump greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and President Moon [Jae-in]. He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain.”
Trump took to Twitter on Thursday night to laud the announcement. “Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!” he wrote.