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Trump plans to meet Kim Jong-un by May

Mar 09,2018
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U.S. President Donald Trump said he will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by May for talks about denuclearization, according to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s special envoy.

Chung Eui-yong, chief of the National Security Office at the Blue House, said Thursday evening outside the White House in Washington, “I told President Trump that, in our meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he is committed to denuclearization.”

He continued in the surprise briefing: “Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests. He understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue. And he expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.”

Chung is on a four-day trip to Washington to debrief Trump and his administration about his delegation’s visit to Pyongyang at the beginning of the week and its meeting with Kim Jong-un. He flew to Washington Thursday saying he had a special message to deliver to the United States from the North Korean leader.

“President Trump appreciated the briefing,” Chung continued, “and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.”

Chung went onto vow that South Korea and the United States and their partners around the world “remain fully and resolutely committed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

He said, “Along with President Trump, we are optimistic about continuing a diplomatic process to test the possibility of a peaceful resolution.”

But he indicated caution, adding, “The Republic of Korea, the United States, and our 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.”

During the short briefing, Chung said President Moon expressed his “personal gratitude for President Trump’s leadership.”

He also credited the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign and international solidarity for bringing about the surprising developments.

Chung did not take any questions from reporters.

South Korea and the United States postponed two-month joint annual military exercises scheduled for early spring to after the

PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympics. They are likely to kick off in early April.

A third inter-Korean summit between Moon and Kim is scheduled for late April at the truce village of Panmunjom.

This could mark a pivotal moment in U.S.-North Korea relations the likes which have not been seen since 2000, when U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang to pave the way for President Bill Clinton to visit — which never happened. Out of office, Clinton visited Pyongyang and met with Kim Jong-il, father of the current Korean leader in 2009 to secure the release of two detained American journalists.

The South Korean special delegation headed by Chung delivered Kim’s message to Trump at the Oval Office earlier Thursday.

The North Korean leader’s message was delivered verbally rather than through a personal letter from Kim, according to U.S. officials.
Earlier that evening, Trump announced in person to reporters in an impromptu visit to the White House briefing room that a “major announcement” about North Korea would be revealed soon. He had reportedly never been in that briefing room before.

Trump tweeted Thursday after Chung’s statement outside the West Wing of the White House: “Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. 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 Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Trump “greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and President Moon.”

Trump “will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un at a place and time to be determined,” she said. “We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea.”

But she added, “In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain."

This comes after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is currently in Ethiopia, said hours before in a press conference in Addis Ababa on direct talks with the United States, “we're a long way from negotiations.”

He also said, “I think as President Trump has indicated, there are potentially positive signals coming from North Korea by way of their intra-Korean dialogue.”

Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement, “Kim Jong-un’s desire to talk shows sanctions the administration has implemented are starting to work. We can pursue more diplomacy, as we keep applying pressure ounce by ounce.”

Royce said that it is important to break the cycle of the North Korean regime using talks to extract concessions and buy time, adding, “The United States and South Korea must stand shoulder-to-shoulder in applying the sustained pressure needed to peacefully end this threat. And Beijing must do its part.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican of Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement after the announcement, “It is clear that a series of sanctions recently put in place by Congress and the administration are having a real impact.”
“As the administration begins to work through the important details of such a meeting, we must continue to apply maximum pressure to the regime in Pyongyang,” and warned that “skepticism and caution are critical as these discussions continue.”

Moon immediately on Friday lauded the planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un, calling it a “miraculous opportunity.”

“Following the inter-Korean summit, if [Trump and Kim] meet, we will, in earnest, be on track toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” said Moon, according to Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyum in a briefing. “This May meeting would be recorded as a historic milestone that drew out peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

Moon also conveyed “deep gratitude to the two leaders for their courage and wisdom in making a difficult decision.”

He added, "In particular, the leadership of President Trump, who readily accepted Chairman Kim's invitation, will receive praise not only from the people of the two Koreas, but also from people around the world wishing for peace.”

Moon named Im Jong-seok, presidential chief of staff, to head a committee to prepare for the upcoming inter-Korean summit, according to Kim.

“The preparatory committee will be mainly tasked with bringing about substantive negotiations to improve South-North relations at the inter-Korean summit in April.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]