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Telegraph / News - Politics

Donald Trump to meet Kim Jong-un: President says 'deal very much in the making' after day of mixed messages

Donald Trump insisted a deal with North Korea was "very much in the making" on Friday, after a day of mixed messages about a proposed meeting between the US president and Kim Jong-un.

  • Trump says 'deal in the making'
  • White House says North Korea needs to  take further steps before meeting
  • Japan fears being left out in the cold
  • Comment: Kim has Trump right where he wants him
  • Analysis: Trump and Kim can both claim a victory

Donald Trump insisted a deal with North Korea was "very much in the making" on Friday, after a day of mixed messages about a proposed meeting between the US president and Kim Jong-un.   

The White House had earlier stressed it would maintain “maximum pressure” on North Korea  as it tried to swat away criticism that the U.S. was  getting nothing in exchange for agreeing to a historic face-to-face summit.

They offered no further details on when or where the meeting would take place as they scrambled to keep pace with the president’s surprise decision to accept Mr Kim’s invitation a day earlier.

China and South Korea both welcomed the move which could defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula and reduce fears of nuclear war, although analysts warned that Mr Trump was in danger of giving Mr Kim an easy PR victory without securing anything in return.

"The deal with North Korea is very much in the making and will be, if completed, a very good one for the World," Mr Trump tweeted late on Friday. "Time and place to be determined,"

Mike Pence, the vice president, had earlier said the North Koreans were coming to the table as a result of increasing pressure on Mr Kim and required “zero concessions” from the US.

Inside the boozy Pyongyang dinner that may have secured breakthrough

“Our resolve is undeterred and our policy remains the same: all sanctions remain in place and the maximum pressure campaign will continue until North Korea takes concrete, permanent, and verifiable steps to end their nuclear programme,” he said.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House spokeswoman, insisted the pressure had already won a commitment from Pyongyang to put its weapons on the table and halt tests but added that it had to take further verifiable steps before the meeting would happen.

“The president will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete action," she said.

There had been no word about such concrete steps the night before when it was announced  the US president would sit down with the North Korean leader "by May", which, if it goes ahead, would be the first time a sitting US president has met a North Korea leader.

South Korea's National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong makes an announcement outside of the West Wing at the White House Credit:REUTERS/Leah Millis

It followed an invitation from Mr Kim to talk, which was conveyed to the White House by South Korean officials after they met with the North Korean leader.

Such a meeting would have been unthinkable for most of the past year as Mr Trump threatened to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea if it continued its provocative missile and bomb tests. The two men traded playground insults - Mr Trump called his rival “little rocket man” while Mr Kim responded by describing the American president as a “senior dotard” - while the US reviewed its military options.

The agreement to meet came in typical Trump fashion. The president reportedly heard South Korea’s envoy to Pyongyang was in the White House for meetings on Thursday and promptly called Chung Eui-yong to the Oval Office where he was told that Mr Kim had extended an invitation.

Kim Jong-un in pictures: Bizarre photoshoots of North Korea's leader

He then told Mr Chung to announce that the two leaders would meet, blindsiding his staff who were still deciding how best to proceed.

The South Korean official, speaking in the White House driveway, said: "He (Mr Kim) 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 denuclearisation."

Mr Kim has also told South Korean officials that he understands the joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea must continue, said Mr Chung, who led the delegation that went to Pyongyang and met Mr Kim on Monday.

How the announcement unfolded

Breaking with convention, Mr Chung spoke outside the White House with no US officials present. He added: "I explained to President Trump that his leadership and his maximum pressure policy, together with international solidarity, brought us to this juncture.”

The US president tweeted that "great progress was being made".

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!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2018

The White House said Mr Trump's meeting with the North Korean leader would be held "at a place and time to be determined."

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, said Mr Trump "will accept the invitation to meet with" Mr Kim.

She added that the US looked "forward to the denuclearisation of North Korea," but said  all sanctions would remain in place in the meantime.

South Korea's Moon Jai-in hailed the development.

"The May meeting will be recorded as a historic milestone that realized peace on the Korean Peninsula," he said.

A South Korean soldier walks past a television screen showing pictures of US President Donald Trump (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in SeoulCredit:JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

'Fly by the seat of your pants diplomacy'

Chris Hill, the former US ambassador to South Korea who headed the US delegation during the six-party talks aimed at resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis from 2005, warned the world to "fasten our seatbelts".

“This is not the first time a President has been asked to meet with a North Korean leader, but it’s certainly to my knowledge the first time one has agreed to it," he said, speaking on Radio 4 on Friday morning. 

“It is quite unusual, and I’m sure there a lot of people around the President who are quite concerned about this, to put it mildly. 

“I think we have to fasten our seatbelts.

“It’s fly by the seat of your pants diplomacy, kind of like the dog that’s running after a car and doesn’t know what to do with it when it’s caught it."

Mr Hill said a meeting with the US President should be decisive and with clear denuclearisation goals.

Donald Trump steps inside White House briefing room to tell reporters of a major announcement coming shortly

“I think that if it turns into a ‘grip and grin’, this is a huge setback for an already beleaguered president, so I think he needs to be very careful that it not be seen as just a publicity stunt," he said.

He added: "There are a lot of problems in North Korea. This is the worst human rights situation in the world. And surely there’s a lot of things that need to be done there as well to put it mildly.

"But if North Korea were to really denuclearise, well I think Donald Trump will have cemented his place in history if he doesn’t already have it now. 

China urges both sides to show 'political courage'

China on Friday welcomed the talks and urged both sides to show "political courage" in easing tensions on the Korean peninsula. However, analysts said Beijing would be concerned about being sidelined in the negotiations, and seemingly unable to shape events.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “We welcome this positive signal by the US and North Korea in having direct dialogue.” Mr Geng also told a regular press briefing in Beijing that "the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is moving in the right direction."

President Donald Trump delivers a speech in the Roosevelt Room the the WhiteCredit:Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"We hope that all parties can demonstrate political courage and make the right political decisions," he added.

China regularly calls on Washington and Pyongyang to meet, and has blamed long-held suspicion between both sides for the tensions. However, Chinese officials may feel anxious about not being involved in critical negotiations which could have major repercussions for north-east Asia, experts said.

“I think China is in an awkward position as North Korea will communicate with the US directly without Beijing’s involvement.” said Zhang Liangui, a professor at the Central Party School in Beijing, and a North Korea expert.

“And China has no ways to get involved with the discussions because it has already been announced.”

Abe to meet Trump in US

Japan's prime minister welcomed the announcement and said he planned to visit the US within the next month to meet Mr Trump.

"I highly appreciate North Korea's change that it will begin talks on the premise of denuclearisation," Shinzo Abe said.

 The Japanese leader hailed the development as "the achievement of cooperation between... Japan, the US, and South Korea to maintain great pressure".

"There is no change in policy for Japan and the United States," he added.

"We will keep putting maximum pressure (on North Korea) until North Korea takes concrete actions toward denuclearisation in a manner that is perfect, verifiable and irreversible."

Hot off the press: employees of the Munhwa Ilbo newspaper, featuring Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un on its front pageCredit:Jean Chung/Bloomberg

Mr Trump agreed to meet the North Korean leader because Mr Kim was the ultimate decision-maker in his country, a senior administration official said.

"President Trump has made his reputation on making deals," the official said in a briefing with reporters.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the message from Kim was relayed orally to Mr Trump by a South Korean delegation in the Oval Office. There was no letter from Mr Kim, the official said.

"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 met with the one person who can actually make decisions instead of repeating the sort of long slog of the past," said the official.

Trump wants 'credit' - but Kim will be happy

The revelation that the two leaders had agreed to meet took the entire world by surprise.

A few hours before it was announced Mr Trump made a surprise and rare appearance in the White House briefing room, indicating a "major announcement" was about to be made.

He said: "Hopefully, you will give me credit."

But some analysts said the development was a win for the North Korean leader.

Jeffrey Lewis, who heads the respected East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies said Mr Trump was dancing to Mr Kim's tune.

"This is literally how the North Korean film "The Country I Saw" ends," he wrote on Twitter. "An American President visits Pyongyang, compelled by North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes."

"Kim is not inviting Trump so that he can surrender North Korea's weapons. Kim is inviting Trump to demonstrate that his investment in nuclear and missile capabilities has forced the United States to treat him as an equal."

South Korea's national security chief Chung Eui-yong briefs U.S. President Donald Trump at the Oval Office about his visit to North KoreaCredit:Reuters

One of the few Americans to have met the North Korean leader praised Mr Trump for agreeing to meet Mr Kim.  

Dennis Rodman, the former NBA star who has travelled several times to North Korea, told The Associated Press he looked forward to returning to the pariah nation for "basketball diplomacy" in the coming months.

He says: "Well done, President Trump. You're on the way to a historical meeting no U.S. president has ever done."

Rodman added: "Please send my regards to Marshal Kim Jong Un and his family."

Daniel Russel, until last April the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, the most senior US diplomatic position for Asia, noted there had still been no public comment from North Korea about the content of Monday’s meeting with the South Korean delegation.

"Let’s hear from the North Koreans themselves what they are proposing and what they are willing to do. There is plenty of reason to be cautious, given their track record," Mr Russel said. "Second, let’s read the fine print. The North has made peace overtures in the past that did not hold up under scrutiny."

Major coup for Seoul

Seoul had already publicly indicated North Korea offered talks with the US on denuclearisation and normalising ties, a potential diplomatic opening after a year of escalating tensions over the hermit kingdom's nuclear programme.

While the path to a diplomatic resolution over the North's nuclear arsenal would be long and difficult, talks could dampen fears of war breaking out.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un greets Chung Eui-yong, head of the presidential National Security Office, in PyongyangCredit:Reuters

Before the announcement Rex Tillerson, the US. Secretary of State, who is in Africa, said the US had seen "potentially positive signals" from North Korea.

The announcement was a major coup for Seoul, which has been pushing for a meeting between the US and North Korea since South Korean President Moon Jae-in came to power last year.

North Korea | Kim Jong-un’s fiery relationship with the US

North and South Korea have agreed to hold their first joint summit in over a decade in late April, at the border village of Panmunjom, in the highly militarised zone between the two countries who are still technically at war.

That will mark the first time a North Korean leader has stepped south of the demarcation line since the Korean War of 1950-53, which has been viewed in Seoul as an indication of Mr Kim’s willingness to compromise.

Earlier this week, President Moon told his party officials that denuclearisation remained South Korea’s goal, that no concessions had been made to bring Mr Kim to the table, and that sanctions would not be eased as a reward for the summit.

He said: “We are at a very important juncture in establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula and denuclearisation."