President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was prepared to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the first US-North Korea summit, marking a potentially dramatic breakthrough in nuclear tensions with Pyongyang.
Kim has committed to “denuclearization” and to suspending nuclear or missile tests, South Korea’s National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong told reporters at the White House after briefing Trump on South Korean officials’ meeting with Kim on Monday.
“A meeting is being planned,” Trump tweeted after speaking to Chung, who announced that Trump expressed a willingness to sit down with Kim in what would be his biggest foreign policy gamble since taking office.
Chung said Trump, in response to Kim’s invitation, had agreed to meet by May, and a senior US official later said it could happen “in a matter of a couple of months, with the exact timing and place still to be determined.”
Trump has previously said he was willing to meet Kim under the right circumstances but had indicated that the time was not right for such talks. He mocked US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October for “wasting his time” trying to talk to North Korea.
Earlier Thursday, Tillerson had said on a visit to Africa that although “talks about talks” might be possible with Pyongyang, denuclearization negotiations were likely a long way off.
“Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze,” Trump said in a message on Twitter on Thursday night. “Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time.”
Trump added: “Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached.”
A meeting between Kim and Trump, who have exchanged bellicose insults in the past year that have raised fear of war, would be a major turnaround after a year in which North Korea has carried out a battery of tests aimed at developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland.
“Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests,” Chung said, apparently referring to a suspension during the duration of any talks.
“He expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible,” he said.
Trump’s aides have been wary of North Korea’s diplomatic overtures because of its history of reneging on international commitments and the failure of efforts on disarmament by the administrations of President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
Under Clinton in October 2000, then-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright held talks in Pyongyang with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong Un.
US officials and experts, speaking to Reuters before Thursday’s announcement, had cautioned that North Korea could buy time to build up and refine its nuclear arsenal, including a warhead able to survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, if it manages to drag out any talks with Washington.