Trump Says He’d Meet With Kim Jong Un Under Right Circumstances

Updated on
  • ‘I would be honored to do it,’ he says in Bloomberg interview
  • North Korea has become Trump’s top foreign policy challenge

Trump Says He's Open to Meeting With North Korea's Kim

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would meet with Kim Jong Un amid heightened tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program if the circumstances were right.

“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it,” Trump said Monday in an Oval Office interview with Bloomberg News. “If it’s under the, again, under the right circumstances. But I would do that.”

Trump says he is open to meeting North Korea’s Kim (audio)

(Source: Bloomberg)

The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, and as recently as last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. would negotiate with Kim’s regime only if it made credible steps toward giving up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Trump speaks during an interview in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 1.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“Most political people would never say that,” Trump said of his willingness to meet with the reclusive Kim, “but I’m telling you under the right circumstances I would meet with him. We have breaking news.”

Asked later about Trump’s comments, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that “clearly conditions are not there right now” for a meeting. He said “we’ve got to see their provocative behavior ratcheted down.”

North Korea has become the most urgent national security threat and foreign policy issue facing Trump as his first 100 days in office passed. Kim’s regime has continued developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in defiance of international condemnation and sanctions. Military analysts have said North Korea is on course to develop a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile that could reach the U.S. mainland as soon as 2020, during Trump’s term in office.

On Tuesday, South Korea said a U.S. missile shield deployed in the country against China’s objections is now technically ready for operations. South Korea’s Defense Ministry had said previously it expected the system to be fully operational by the end of the year.

The government in Seoul on Tuesday played down the chance of a near-term meeting between Trump and Kim.

‘Right Direction’

The South Korean and U.S. stance on Pyongyang remains the same, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said at a briefing. "The door for dialogue is open" if Pyongyang decides to go in the "right direction" of denuclearization. China Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing that North Korea and the U.S. should both show good faith, and that talks were the best option to resolving the tension.

Even if the conditions were right, from the U.S. perspective, a meeting would be unlikely. Kim has not met any major world leader since taking charge after his father’s death in late 2011 and hasn’t left his isolated country. His nuclear program gives him prestige at home. And leaving North Korea, even for a short period, could expose him to the risk of a coup by opponents in the military or Pyongyang’s elite, analysts say.

North Korea’s official news agency on Tuesday released a commentary from its Minju Joson newspaper saying the U.S. is “seriously mistaken” if it thinks the regime will compromise. 

“The Trump administration would be well advised to learn how humbly the preceding administrations were put in the awkward position of lowering the fist of pressure they had raised before the DPRK,” the commentary said, using the formal initials for North Korea’s name.

Detailed, Verified

Kim would need to be willing to discuss detailed and verifiable steps for denuclearization, said Joseph DeTrani, a former senior adviser to the U.S. director of national intelligence who helped broker a 2005 agreement on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

“Not only would they need to show a willingness to discuss denuclearization, but you’d need to stop nuclearization,” he said. “No one would want to sit down for talks while they are still launching missiles and having nuclear tests.”

Kim’s predecessors weren’t much more accessible or cooperative. Over more than two decades, six-nation talks, bilateral negotiations, food aid and UN sanctions have all failed to deter the Kim dynasty’s quest for a nuclear arsenal. That has left the Trump administration relying increasingly on China, North Korea’s neighbor and top trading partner, to exert pressure on the regime.

While Trump didn’t spell out what conditions would have to be met for him to sit down with Kim, Evans Revere, a former U.S. diplomat in South Korea, said “it’s almost impossible to imagine North Korea meeting the conditions that would allow such a meeting to occur.”

“North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty when it was caught cheating, violated every one of the denuclearization commitments it made, and now threatens the United States and its allies with nuclear weapons,” Revere, a senior adviser at the Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington, said in an email. “That’s hardly the basis for a presidential meeting with Kim Jong Un.”  

Tensions have escalated since Trump vowed in January that he wouldn’t let North Korea develop a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the U.S., and North Korea has labeled American military moves in the region as acts of “intimidation and blackmail.” North Korea has continued to test missiles this year after carrying out two nuclear tests last year.

Read how North Korea defies the world with nuclear ambitions -- a QuickTake

While dispatching an aircraft carrier group and a submarine to the region, the Trump administration has emphasized the use of economic sanctions and diplomacy to persuade North Korea to curtail its nuclear program. Trump has said he’s encouraged by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to defuse the situation. Trump and Xi met last month at the U.S. president’s private club in Florida and have talked several times since.

Then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was the last top U.S. official to meet with a North Korean leader. She discussed the country’s nuclear program with Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, in 2000. At the time, she was the most senior official to visit years since the Korean War.

— With assistance by Nick Wadhams, Andy Sharp, Russell Ward, Kanga Kong, David Tweed, and Peter Martin

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