North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is to meet US President Donald Trump by May, a top South Korean security official announced Thursday in Washington, in an unprecedented development.
Chung Eui Yong, who led a South Korean delegation to meet Kim in Pyongyang earlier this week, said the North Korean leader had “expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.”
Following a briefing on Kim’s offer on Thursday, Trump “said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization,” Chung told reporters.
If the meeting takes place, it will be the first time that a US president has met with a leader of the reclusive nation.
Chung also said the North Korean leader had agreed to refrain from further nuclear and ballistic missile tests and was committed to the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.
Kim also “understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue,” Chung said.
The announcements could be a breakthrough in the decades-long effort to restore peace in the region and follow a flurry of diplomacy which centred around North Korea’s attendance of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang last month.
The White House later confirmed that Trump had accepted Kim’s invitation to meet “at a place and time to be determined.”
However, it emphasized that “in the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain.”
Trump said in a tweet that “great progress” was being made.
South Korean President Moon Jae In described the potential meeting as a “historic milestone” for peace, local media reported Friday.
“The May meeting will be recorded as a historic milestone that realized peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said in a statement read out by his spokesman, according to the Yonhap news agency.
“If President Trump and Chairman Kim meet following an inter-Korean summit, complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will be put on the right track in earnest,” Moon said.
Trump’s leadership would be praised not only by Koreans “but also from people around the world,” he added.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he had discussed North Korea with Trump in a phone call and would hold talks in person with him in Washington in April.
Chung said that South Korean President Moon Jae In had asked him to express his “personal gratitude” to Trump, saying that his leadership and policy of “maximum pressure” had “brought us to this juncture.”
“The Republic of Korea, the United States and our partners stand together in insisting that we not repeat the mistakes of the past, and that the pressure will continue until North Korea matches its words with concrete actions,” Chung ended.
Tensions between North Korean and the international community peaked last year as Pyongyang violated UN resolutions by carrying out a series of ballistic missile tests and a nuclear test in September.
Trump and Kim also engaged in a war of increasingly bombastic threats and insults, with the US president threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” and nicknaming Kim “Little Rocket Man” while Kim called him a “mentally deranged US dotard.”
A senior Trump administration official, who did not wish to be named, told reporters that the White House would “settle for nothing less” than permanent denuclearization and that Trump had been very clear that he would not “reward North Korea for talks.”
The official said there had been no letter from Kim to Trump, as previously reported, but that Kim’s invitation had been transmitted orally by the South Korean delegation.
Following this week’s talks between South and North Korea, it had already been announced that Moon would meet Kim at a summit in April on the border between the two countries.
It will mark only the third time that the countries’ leaders have met since 2000.