Donald Trump will maintain “maximum pressure” on North Korea when he meets Kim Jong-un for unprecedented talks, the White House said on Friday, as officials claimed the breakthrough marked a victory for US policy.
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.
Mike Pence, the vice president, said North Koreans were coming to the table as a result of increasing pressure on Mr Kim and required “zero concessions” from the US.
“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.
In an extraordinary development, the US president said a day earlier that he 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.
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.
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.
Asian stock markets responded positively to the news, with Japan’s Nikkei climbing 2.3 percent.
South Korean stocks were enjoying their best day since May, up 1.8 percent, while the dollar rose against the safe-haven Japanese yen.