Donald Trump agrees to meet North Korea's Kim Jong-un by May
US president Donald Trump is to meet North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un within weeks after what was hailed as a “miracle” diplomatic breakthrough between the two sides.
Mr Trump agreed to meet Mr Kim by May after a secret letter from Pyongyang was delivered to the White House by two South Korea envoys proposing the meeting.
The surprise announcement came followed a meeting at the White House between Mr Trump and South Korea’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, who had recently returned from Pyongyang.
“I told President Trump that, in our meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he is committed to denuclearisation," said Mr Chung. "Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests ... and he expressed his eagerness to meet president Trump as soon as possible.”
The South Korean envoy said that “President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearisation.”
Mr Trump commented on 'the great progress' being made. He said sanctions will remain in place. He tweeted:
Just last September Mr Trump mocked the North Korean leader as “little rocket man” and Pyongyang, criticising the US president’s policies, called him a “dotard”.
Following the announcement, some gave Mr Trump credit that his aggressive strategy of imposing harsher sanctions on North Korea had paid off, while others cautioned that Kim Jong-un scored important political points by getting a meeting.
Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, welcomed the news of the meeting. “Kim Jong-un’s desire to talk shows sanctions the administration has implemented are starting to work,” he said.
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President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said the agreement to hold face-to-face talks had "came like a miracle".
"If President Trump and Chairman Kim meet following an inter-Korean summit, complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula will be put on the right track in earnest," he said, adding that the US-North Korean talks could "be recorded as a historic milestone that realised peace on the Korean Peninsula".
China, North Korea's closest ally, welcomed the planned meeting and called for both sides to show "political courage" to achieve denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, while Russia said the move was "a step in the right direction". Both countries were part of the sporadic "six-party" talks, along with the US, the two Koreas and Japan, that were launched in 2003 after North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Japan’s prime minister also welcomed the announcement. “I highly appreciate North Korea’s change that it will begin talks on the premise of denuclearisation,” Shinzo Abe said, adding that he planned to visit the United States to meet Mr Trump “as early as April”.
He hailed the announcement of the summit as “the achievement of co-operation between ... Japan, the US, and South Korea to maintain great pressure”.
“There is no change in policy for Japan and the United States,” Mr Abe added.
“We will keep putting maximum pressure [on North Korea] until North Korea takes concrete actions toward denuclearisation in a manner that is complete, verifiable and irreversible.”
But arms control experts and former diplomats were more sceptical. Jeffrey Lewis, of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies tweeted: “To be clear – we need to talk to North Korea. But Kim is not inviting Trump so that he can surrender North Korea's weapons” but “to demonstrate that his investment in nuclear and missile capabilities has forced the United States to treat him as an equal.”
Former US diplomat Bill Richardson warned that Mr Trump had to be fully prepared for the meeting, or else “he would be walking into a trap”. He told CNN that North Korea agreeing to a freeze on its nuclear programme is different from denuclearisation.
Within the administration, it was the White House and the Pentagon that took the lead on the issue. The South Korean envoys met national security adviser HR McMaster, defence secretary James Mattis, treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, and head of national intelligence Daniel Coats. Deputy secretary of state John Sullivan attended some of the White House meetings.
The US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who is on a tour of Africa, had told reporters earlier that “in terms of direct talks with the United States ... we’re a long ways from negotiations”.
The location and the timing of the meeting are still to be determined and will involve direct mediation by Seoul, whose relations have seen an improvement with Pyongyang. However it has been speculated that the location will either be the Demilitarised Zone on the Korean border or in Beijing.