U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday reinstated a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the original date of June 12 in Singapore, pledging to start the process of building a relationship between the two adversaries.
“I think it’s probably going to be a very successful, ultimately a successful process,” Trump said after receiving a personal letter from Kim in a meeting with a North Korean envoy at the White House.
Trump said he and Kim could agree in Singapore to officially end the 1950-1953 Korean War. The two countries do not have diplomatic relations.
However, the president apparently tried to lower expectations for the outcome of what will be the first-ever U.S-North Korea summit and whose major theme will be the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Trump said he believes Kim is committed to denuclearization, but that the two leaders are “not going to go in and sign something on June 12th.”
“It’ll be a beginning,” he said after talks with Kim Yong Chol, a close aide to leader Kim and a vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee. “I’ve never said it happens in one meeting.”
Trump said he did not discuss human rights issues with Kim Yong Chol — a sign that he did not raise Pyongyang’s abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, a top-priority issue for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Prospects for a June 12 summit in Singapore had been shaky as the two sides exchanged threats and engaged in diplomatic brinkmanship, with Trump abruptly canceling on May 24, citing the North’s “open hostility,” before reversing the decision a day later.
Kim Yong Chol visited the White House following two days of talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo through Thursday in New York.
It was the first time for a North Korean official to visit the White House since 2000, when Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok met with then President Bill Clinton.
In Friday’s talks, which lasted more than an hour, Trump said he and Kim Yong Chol discussed U.S. and U.N. sanctions on North Korea, the possibility of ending the Korean War, and other issues.
Trump said that though the sanctions will stay in place, he does not want to use the term “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang — his signature North Korean policy designed to compel it to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs — “because we’re getting along.”
Aside from Kim Yong Chol’s trip to the United States — arranged with a special exemption because he is on a U.S. sanctions list — the two governments have been holding negotiations in Singapore and the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea in preparation for the summit.
On Thursday, Trump said he wants the summit to be “meaningful,” and acknowledged the difficulty of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, given the wide gap between the two sides on how to achieve denuclearization of the peninsula.
“It doesn’t mean it gets all done in one meeting — maybe you have to have a second or a third” to reach a deal on denuclearization, he said.
The United States has called for swift and complete denuclearization, while North Korea has sought “phased and synchronous measures,” an incremental, action-for-action process in which Pyongyang secures concessions such as sanctions relief for each move it takes toward denuclearization.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Pompeo said Washington is calling for the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the peninsula.
He was referring to a process that would require Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arsenal and its weapons-building infrastructure and development programs, while also submitting to international inspections and monitoring to ensure the shift would be complete and permanent.
Experts say they find it difficult to imagine that Kim would bargain away the arsenal Pyongyang has developed for decades and which the leadership regards as a means to ensure regime survival.
Trump, according to Pompeo, believes Kim can make a strategic decision to rid Pyongyang of nuclear weapons and other elements of its nuclear program in exchange for security assurances as well as the easing of U.S. and U.N. sanctions, and U.S. investment and economic assistance.
“We’re going to make sure it’s secure,” Trump said Friday of the Kim Jong Un regime. “And they have a potential to be a great country.”