President Donald Trump has put out a rare and restrained tweet heralding his decision to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by May after months of trading insults and threats of nuclear annihilation.
The historic decision was announced Thursday afternoon by a top South Korean official outside the White House – just hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said America was ‘a long way from negotiations’ with North Korea.
South Korean national security director, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters of the planned summit after briefing Trump and other top US officials about a rare meeting with Kim in the North Korean capital on Monday.
Chung said he had told Trump that Kim says he’s committed to ‘denuclearization’ and has pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests – providing a rare diplomatic opening after a year of escalating tensions over the North’s tests.
President Donald Trump put out a restrained tweet heralding his decision to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by May after months of trading insults
‘Kim Jong Un talked about de-nuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze,’ Trump tweeted.
‘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!’
The historic decision came just hours after Tillerson made his comments, fueling speculation he was blindsided by the announcement.
During a press conference in Ethiopia on Thursday on his first-ever Africa tour, Tillerson said the signals from Pyongyang may be positive but stressed negotiations with Kim’s regime were not going to happen soon.
‘I think as President Trump has indicated, (there are) potentially positive signals coming from North Korea by way of their intra-Korean dialogue with South Korea,’ he told journalists.
But ‘in terms of direct talks… we’re a long way from negotiations, we just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it,’ he said.
A half hour after the foreign official announced the pending meeting steps from the West Wing, the White House confirmed Trump’s participation.
Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have spent the past few months trading insults and threats of nuclear annihilation
The historic decision came just hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said America was ‘a long way from negotiations’ with North Korea
A statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the place and time of the meeting was still to be determined.
‘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,’ Sanders said.
‘We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain.’
Trump took office vowing to stop North Korea from attaining a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the US 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 after leaving Pyongyang, Chung had publicized that North Korea was offering talks with the United States on denuclearization and normalizing ties, but the proposal for a summit still came as a huge surprise, and will raise questions about whether the two sides are ready for such a high-level meeting.
President Donald Trump has accepted North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s dramatic offer to meet, and he’ll do it by May, a South Korean official said Thursday evening
Peace move: Kim Jong Un held face to face talks with South Korea’s delegation this week – and has passed a message to Trump offering to meet
Chung, who credited Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign for the diplomatic opening, said Kim understands that routine US-South Korea military drills ‘must continue.’
The drills were suspended during the Winter Olympics recently hosted by South Korea, which provided impetus for the inter-Korea rapprochement. The drills are expected to resume next month. North Korea has long protested the military maneuvers south of the divided Korean Peninsula as a rehearsal for invading the North.
Trump had made a surprise visit to the White House press briefing room on Thursday afternoon to alert reporters to the South Korean announcement. When asked whether the announcement would be about talks with North Korea, he told ABC reporter Jon Karl: ‘It’s almost beyond that. Hopefully, you will give me credit.’
On Tuesday, Trump had expressed both hope and skepticism about the 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.