WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has agreed to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by May for direct talks about the North’s nuclear arms and long-range missile programs, according to a senior South Korean official.
Kim personally invited Trump to the negotiating table during recent meetings with top South Korean officials, Chung Eui-yong, the South’s national security adviser, said during an extraordinary statement delivered Thursday evening outside the West Wing.
The North Korean leader says he intends to stop nuclear and missile tests while talks are ongoing, Chung said, adding Kim assured the South Korean delegation last week that he is “committed” to giving up his atomic arsenal.
The South Korean official came to the White House earlier Thursday to brief Trump, telling the U.S. commander in chief his country thanks him for his “leadership and his maximum pressure campaign” against Pyongyang. Trump’s actions, Chung said, have “brought us to this juncture.”
Trump accepted the invitation during his Thursday afternoon meeting with Chung.
South Korean officials hand-delivered a message from Kim to Trump on Thursday afternoon, CNN reported.
Trump as recently as Saturday referred to Kim as “a madman” and long has derisively called him “Little Rocket Man.” The U.S. president also has threatened U.S. military action to disarm North Korea — even implying on several occasions suggesting he might use nuclear weapons if Kim did not give up his atomic arms and missiles.
Several White House aides have not responded to an inquiry to confirm Trump accepted Kim’s invitation on the spot.
After months of bluster and threats toward North Korea, Trump on Saturday announced his administration will hold talks with the Kim government about its nuclear arms and long-range missile programs.
Then-President Barack Obama told Trump before he was sworn in that North Korea would be the most-pressing global problem he would need to solve during his term. Since, Trump has threatened to attack the North — even at times suggesting he would unleash America’s atomic arsenal to take out the North’s. His sudden pivot toward talks is just the latest example of how the 45th president’s policy stances often change suddenly.
“They, by the way, called up a couple of days ago and said, ‘We would like to talk,’ ” Trump said of the Kim government Saturday night during remarks at the annual Gridiron Dinner. “And I said, ‘So would we, but you have to de-nuke, you have to de-nuke.’ ”
After some of his critics warned he might start a major Asian conflict — or even a nuclear one — Trump on Saturday night softened his brash tone on the North, saying “maybe positive things are happening.”
“I hope that’s true and I say that in all seriousness. I hope that’s true,” he said.
An ABC News reporter caught Trump and Vice President Mike Pence alone in a West Wing hallway early Thursday evening. The president again showed how much value he places on how he is portrayed in the media, saying of the coming announcement: “It’s almost beyond that. Hopefully, you will give me credit.”