U.S. President Donald Trump, after weeks of assailing North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambitions, said Monday he would be “honored” to meet with Pyongyang’s leader, Kim Jong Un, “under the right circumstances” to discuss the issue.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Trump declared, “If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it. If it’s under the, again, under the right circumstances. But I would do that.”
Trump added, “Most political people would never say that, but I’m telling you under the right circumstances I would meet with him. We have breaking news.”
Later, however, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said there is no Trump-Kim meeting in the offing, and it won’t occur unless North Korea ends its “provocative” behavior in pursuit of nuclear weapons.
“I don’t see this happening anytime soon,” Spicer said of any meeting with Trump. “Those circumstances do not exist right now.”
Reclusive North Korea and its effort to build missiles that could carry a nuclear warhead and strike the U.S. mainland 9,000 kilometers away has become the biggest national security threat for the U.S. in the first months of Trump’s presidency.
The U.S. leader has dispatched a naval strike group to the waters off the Korean peninsula as a warning signal to North Korea against its nuclear program. A Japanese destroyer left port Monday to join the U.S. ships, as Tokyo takes a more active military role in the region.
Kim has never met with a foreign leader since assuming power after his father’s death in 2011 and hasn’t left his isolated country, not even to visit neighboring China, its prime economic benefactor. North Korea has condemned U.S. military drills in the region as acts of “intimidation and blackmail” and threatened to attack the lead U.S. ship off its shores, the USS Carl Vinson.
North Korea, in violation of United Nations sanctions, has continued to test ballistic missiles, the latest a failed launch last weekend. Pyongyang has also conducted five nuclear tests.
Trump, who has met numerous world leaders in Washington and at his oceanfront retreat in Florida during his three-plus months in office, has also yet to travel abroad as president. His willingness to meet with Kim came as U.S. Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo was in Seoul talking about the North Korean threat with South Korean intelligence officials and high-level presidential aides.
CIA chief in South Korea
Pompeo, traveling with his wife Susan, arrived in the South Korean capital over the weekend and met with the head of the National Intelligence Service.
Their meetings occurred hours before Pyongyang declared Monday that in the face of new U.S. pressure for U.N. sanctions against North Korea it would “speed up” its nuclear deterrence “at the maximum pace.”
U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Sunday it would adhere to its agreement with South Korea to shoulder the cost of a new missile defense system that is being installed in the face of the North Korean threat. But McMaster said the U.S. is also looking for Seoul to share the cost in the future.
In Australia, Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull issued a new warning against North Korea, saying his government and the U.S. are “taking a strong message to North Korea that we will not tolerate reckless, dangerous threats to the peace and stability of our region.” Turnbull and Trump are meeting for the first time Thursday in New York.
In an interview broadcast Sunday, Trump said he “would not be happy” if North Korea conducts another nuclear test, which would be its sixth.
“I can tell you also, I don’t believe that the president of China, who is a very respected man, will be happy either,” Trump said of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Asked if “not happy” with another Pyongyang nuclear test meant he would undertake “military action” against the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump said, “I don’t know. I mean, we’ll see. It is a chess game. I just don’t want people to know what my thinking is.”
Trump, in a Twitter comment, said the Pyongyang’s latest missile test, even though it failed, “disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President…. Bad!” But in the interview on the CBS network, Trump said North Korea eventually “will have a better delivery system.”
The U.S. leader described North Korea’s Kim as “obviously … a pretty smart cookie,” but said the U.S. cannot allow North Korea to develop a nuclear weapon, and blamed prior American presidential administrations for not dealing with the Pyongyang’s military ambitions.