(CNSNews.com) – President Trump has accepted an invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un “at a place and time to be determined,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed on Thursday night.
The president meanwhile tweeted that a meeting was “being planned,” and stressed that “sanctions will remain” in place until a denuclearization agreement has been reached.
South Korean national security advisor Chung Eui-yong told reporters after briefing Trump at the White House earlier that during talks in Pyongyang this week, Kim Jong-un had “expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.”
“President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization,” Chung added.
The South Korean official attributed the evident breakthrough to Trump’s leadership and his policy of bringing “maximum pressure” to bear on the regime, along with “international solidarity.”
In his tweet, Trump relayed that Kim, in his discussions with the South Korean delegation, had spoken of denuclearization, “not just a freeze.”
“Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time,” he tweeted. “Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!”
In her brief statement, Sanders said, “We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain.”
If a summit goes ahead it will be the first ever between a U.S. president and a North Korean leader. After leaving the White House, Presidents Carter and Clinton met with Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in 1994 and 2009 respectively. Secretary of State Madeline Albright met with Kim Jong-il in late 2000.
Trump last year famously called Kim “Little Rocket Man,” while the North Korean dictator has called the president a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” among other epithets. The year was marked by the Stalinist regime’s most powerful nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests yet.
According to Chung, Kim has already made significant concessions – not just pledging to stop carrying out nuclear or ballistic missile tests but also accepting that U.S.-South Korean wargames – which he has consistently opposed and railed against – will go on.
“Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests,” Chung said he told Trump. “He understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue.”
Victor Cha, a Korea specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Georgetown University wondered in a tweet what the U.S. will put on the table in return: “sanctions? Normalization? Peace treaty?”
‘Mistakes of the past’
North Korean state media have said very little this week about what was actually discussed during the South Korean delegation’s visit to Pyongyang. All of the accounts of what Kim said have come from the South Koreans.
One report on the talks by the regime’s KCNA news agency made no reference to a willingness to denuclearize, citing Kim only as speaking about making progress in North-South relations and writing “a new history of national reunification.”
In his statement to the media, Chung said that South Korea, the U.S. and their partners “stand together in insisting that we not repeat the mistakes of the past, and that the pressure will continue until North Korea matches its words with concrete actions.”
Agreements struck with Pyongyang by the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations brought North Korea significant incentives – including food and fuel aid, help to build civilian nuclear reactors, and removal from the state-sponsors of terrorism list – in return for freezing its nuclear program.
Cha served during the Bush administration as deputy head of the U.S. delegation to the six-party talks. Multiple rounds of negotiations involving the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea were held in Beijing between 2003 and 2008.
Earlier this week he and CSIS fellow Lisa Collins argued that if negotiations do go ahead it would be useful to reaffirm the principles agreed upon in a 2005 six-party talks joint statement.
“It is the only place where North Korea has committed in writing to abandoning all its nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs,” they wrote.
“It is also the most recent iteration of the U.S. security assurance statement that it will not attack North Korea with nuclear or conventional weapons.”
A senior administration official briefing reporters on background on Thursday night suggested that Trump is not interested in returning to past diplomatic formulas, noting that for two-and-a-half decades lower-level talks had been held, “and that history speaks for itself.”
“President Trump has made his reputation on making deals,” wire services quoted the official as saying.
“Kim Jong-un is the one person who is able to make decisions under their authoritarian – uniquely authoritarian or totalitarian system. And so it made sense to accept an invitation to meet with the one person who can actually make decisions instead of repeating this sort of long slog of the past.”