US President Donald Trump said on Friday that his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would happen on June 12 in Singapore after all, despite calling it off last week.
He made the announcement after meeting with top North Korean dignitary Kim Yong-chol at the White House – the first visit to Washington by a key official from the isolated country in at least 18 years.
Speaking after the meeting, Trump said: “We are going to deal and we are really going to start a process. Remember what I say, we will see what we will see.”
He added that he spoke with the North Korean envoy about sanctions on the reclusive regime. The two sides do not expect to sign any agreement on June 12, he said.
“I look forward to the day I can take the sanctions off North Korea,” Trump added.
Trump said that North Korea was interested in denuclearisation, and that the US was now starting a “process” and a “relationship” that he believed would ultimately be successful.
Kim Yong-chol, 72, a former North Korean spy chief who has been involved in decades of nuclear talks, also delivered a letter to Trump from Kim Jong-un.
Trump said that the meeting had initially begun as a letter presentation, but had developed into “a longer conversation”. He said the letter was “very nice” and “very interesting” – but then said he had not opened it yet.
Trump also said the US would not impose any additional sanctions on North Korea for the time being. “We had hundreds of new sanctions ready to go,” he said, but promised they won’t be imposed “until the talks break down.”
Sue Mi Terry, a former Korea analyst for the CIA, told the South China Morning Post that, as North Korea’s top intelligence official, Kim Yong-chol is Kim Jong-un’s “right hand man” and has his leader’s trust, she added, saying, “He can speak and negotiate on behalf of Kim Jong-un” with Trump.
After the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, Trump walked Kim out of the White House. They continued to speak and posed for photos before Kim got into a black SUV and departed.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that two days of talks with Kim Yong-chol in New York had contributed “real progress” towards the planned summit, adding that the US hopes it will lead to the “complete, verifiable and irreversible” end to North Korea’s nuclear programme.
And while Kim Jong-un, during a meeting with Russia’s foreign minister in Pyongyang on Thursday, said the North’s will for denuclearisation is “unchanged and consistent and fixed”, it is still unclear if his vision fits with Washington’s strict demands.
After two meetings with Kim Jong-un and three with Kim Yong-chol, however, Pompeo said he thought the North was at least ready to consider addressing US demands for denuclearisation.
“I believe they are contemplating a path forward,” Pompeo said. “They can make a strategic shift, one that their country has not been prepared to make before. This will obviously be their decision.”
Pompeo added: “It will take bold leadership from Chairman Kim Jong-un if we were able to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the course for the world.
“President Trump and I believe Chairman Kim is the kind of leader who can make those kind of decisions, and in the coming weeks and months, we will have the opportunity to test whether or not this is the case.”
“This is a difficult, difficult challenge. Make no mistake about it. There remains a great deal of work to do,” he said.
The North Korean visit to the White House on Friday is the first since 2000, when President Bill Clinton met with Jo Myong-rok, a special envoy for Kim Jong-il, in an unsuccessful bid to win the reclusive nation’s nuclear disarmament.
They met for 45 minutes and Jo brought Clinton a letter from Kim, the father of North Korea’s current leader.
To make his trip this week, Kim Yong-chol needed special permission for travel to the United States because he had been blacklisted.
South Korea has accused him of masterminding deadly attacks on a South Korean warship and an island in 2010, and US intelligence linked him to a cyberattack on Sony Pictures in 2014.
Meanwhile, North and South Korean officials continue their dialogue on Friday at the border village of Panmunjom.
There, senior officials from the rival nations agreed to hold military and Red Cross talks later this month intent on reducing tensions and resuming reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean war.
They also agreed to establish a liaison office at the North Korean border town of Kaesong soon and hold talks on fielding combined teams in some sports at the Asian Games in August.
North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme has made significant advances in recent years and poses a threat to the United States. Trump’s main goal in any talks is to eliminate that threat.
Kim has rejected previous US calls for North Korea’s unilateral nuclear disarmament and argued instead for a “phased” approach to denuclearisation of the entire Korean peninsula. That in the past has also meant removal of the US nuclear umbrella protecting South Korea and Japan.
Reporting by Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters
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