(Bloomberg) — U.S. President Donald Trump hailed “great progress” in talks with North Korea after agreeing to meet Kim Jong Un in what would be an unprecedented summit.
“Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze,” Trump said on Twitter late Thursday in Washington. “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!”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier the meeting would occur at “a place and time to be determined.” The announcement was first made by South Korean National Security Council chief Chung Eui-yong, who told reporters in Washington that Kim “expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible” and that Trump “said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.”
The news stoked gains in Asian equity markets Friday, and sent the yen — a haven during times of stress — tumbling to its biggest drop in more than two weeks against the dollar. South Korea’s Kospi Index of shares was up 1.6 percent as of 10:30 a.m. in Seoul, while the broader MSCI Asia Pacific Index advanced 0.7 percent. The yen slid 0.6 percent to 106.90.
Kim is committed to getting rid of his nuclear weapons and would refrain from nuclear or missile tests, Chung said. The North Korean leader also understands that routine U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises must continue, Chung said, adding that the pressure campaign will continue “until North Korea matches its words with concrete actions.”
Trump’s decision to meet soon with Kim is supported by his Vice President Mike Pence, who set the U.S. tone as the top official at the Winter Olympic games in South Korea and sat in on the South Korean envoy’s meeting with Trump, according to an official familiar with the discussions. The official said the U.S. made no concessions in order to pave the way for a meeting with Kim and is not backing off on applying sanctions or maximum pressure.
A Trump administration official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, pointed out that prior administrations had entered into dialogues with the regime at lower levels. Trump made his reputation as a deal-maker and only Kim is uniquely capable of making negotiating decisions under North Korea’s authoritarian system, the official said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed Trump’s planned meeting with Kim, and said he planned to visit the U.S. in April. H.R. McMaster, the U.S. National Security Adviser, will brief the United Nations Security Council on the latest developments on March 12, according to a European diplomat who asked not to be identified since the announcement isn’t public.
Read a QuickTake on the prospects for North Korea nuclear talks
Initial reaction among analysts was mixed, with some saying Trump risked legitimizing the regime while others welcoming the potential for a breakthrough.
“Now the hard work begins,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, said in a statement. “Though President Trump deserves credit for being so bold as to agree to a summit meeting with North Korea by May, this is a process that will, if its successful, be a long-one that takes patience and persistence.”
A summit with an American president has been a top North Korean foreign policy goal for more than 20 years, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said on Twitter.
‘Treat Him as an Equal’
“We need to talk to North Korea,” Lewis wrote. “But 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.”
The announcement came after a South Korean delegation briefed Trump administration officials about their recent talks in Pyongyang. During those meetings, North Korean officials indicated they would consider halting their nuclear weapons program if the U.S. can guarantee the safety of Kim’s regime — a longstanding goal.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, traveling in Ethiopia on Thursday, had tamped down hopes for a breakthrough with North Korea, saying “We’re a long way from negotiations, we just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it.” South Korean President Moon Jae-in made similar comments, saying “This is just a start, and we can’t be optimistic just yet.”
The U.S. and North Korea have been at loggerheads since the Korean War ended without a peace treaty almost 65 years ago, and Kim’s government has repeatedly said nuclear weapons were necessary to deter any U.S.-led military action. Talks have repeatedly broken down, with both sides accusing the other of failing to live up to agreements.
Trump and Kim traded increasingly tense barbs after the U.S. president took office in January 2017. Trump vowed to bring “fire and fury” down on North Korea if forced to do so, while Kim derided the U.S. president as a “dotard” as he ramped up his missile and nuclear tests.
Tensions appeared to ease after South Korea agreed to let North Korean athletes participate in the Winter Olympic Games last month. The detente came after Kim declared that he had the capability to strike the U.S. homeland with a nuclear weapon.
The U.S. military said as recently as January that North Korea hasn’t demonstrated essential capabilities for a missile, including whether such a device could survive reentry into the atmosphere and hit a target accurately.