U.S. President Donald Trump hailed “great progress” in talks with North Korea after agreeing to meet Kim Jong Un in what would be an unprecedented summit.
“Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze,” Trump said on Twitter late Thursday in Washington. “Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier the meeting would occur at “a place and time to be determined.” The announcement was first made by South Korean National Security Council chief Chung Eui-yong, who told reporters in Washington that Kim was eager to meet Trump and that the meeting would take place by May.
The news sent shockwaves through the U.S. national security community, which has long been skeptical of North Korea’s intentions. Presidential meetings have typically been viewed as a carrot to seal a deal, rather than kick off negotiations.
“It’s a big deal — there’s no question this is a positive move,” Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk research and consulting firm in New York, said on Bloomberg TV. “But also there is the possibility that it could go badly, that Trump could be embarrassed that they make an agreement that Kim Jong Un could backslide on.”
Asian equity markets gained Friday after the announcement, which sent the yen — a haven during times of stress — tumbling at one point the most in more than two weeks against the dollar. As has been the case in the past on geopolitical news on North Korea, immediate moves began to fade as the trading session went on.
An official familiar with the discussions said the U.S. made no concessions in order to pave the way for a meeting with Kim and is not backing off on applying sanctions or maximum pressure.
Read a QuickTake on the prospects for North Korea nuclear talks
The location for the meeting, and details such as who will be present, are up in the air, an administration official said, adding that Trump plans to speak by phone soon with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Kim is set to meet next month with South Korean President Moon Jae-in across the border in the demilitarized zone, which will be the first time he’s left North Korea since becoming supreme leader.
Kim is committed to getting rid of his nuclear weapons and will refrain from nuclear or missile tests, according to Chung, South Korea’s national security adviser, who was in the U.S. capital this week to brief officials about his trip to Pyongyang to meet Kim. The North Korean leader also understands that routine U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises must continue, Chung said, adding that the pressure campaign will continue “until North Korea matches its words with concrete actions.”
The South Korean envoys spoke with Trump for about 45 minutes, according to an official from the nation’s presidential office. Chung told Trump that he felt Kim speaks candidly and is sincere, while at the same time cautioning that past mistakes shouldn’t be repeated. They made their discussion public at Trump’s behest, the official said.
Separately, Chung asked Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to give South Korea an exemption on steel tariffs.
“We welcome these positive signals from the U.S. and the DPRK on having direct dialogue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said a regular press in Beijing. “The Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is moving in the right direction, towards settlement.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was less enthusiastic, saying he appreciated North Korea’s “change” and that he planned to visit the U.S. in April. In a call with Trump before the announcement, the leaders agreed to keep enforcing sanctions until “North Korea takes tangible steps toward complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization,” according to the White House.
A summit with an American president has been a top North Korean foreign policy goal for more than 20 years, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said on Twitter.
‘Treat Him as an Equal’
“We need to talk to North Korea,” Lewis wrote. “But Kim is not inviting Trump so that he can surrender North Korea’s weapons. Kim is inviting Trump to demonstrate that his investment in nuclear and missile capabilities has forced the United States to treat him as an equal.”
The U.S. and North Korea have been at loggerheads since the Korean War ended without a peace treaty almost 65 years ago, and Kim’s government has repeatedly said nuclear weapons were necessary to deter any U.S.-led military action. Talks have repeatedly broken down, with both sides accusing the other of failing to live up to agreements.
Trump and Kim traded increasingly tense barbs after the U.S. president took office in January 2017. Trump vowed to bring “fire and fury” down on North Korea if forced to do so, while Kim derided the U.S. president as a “dotard” as he ramped up his missile and nuclear tests.
Tensions appeared to ease after South Korea agreed to let North Korean athletes participate in the Winter Olympic Games last month. The detente came after Kim declared that he had the capability to strike the U.S. homeland with a nuclear weapon.