UPDATE AT 1415 KST: This article has been amended to include comments by South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet with U.S. President Donald Trump in the following months, South Korea’s chief envoy to talks in Pyongyang earlier in the week said on Thursday.
Speaking at the White House, South Korea’s National Security Office (NSO) chief Chung Eui-yong said that in meetings in Pyongyang on Monday the DPRK leader had “expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.”
President Trump has reportedly accepted the invitation, and will meet Kim Jong Un “by May,” Chung added.
The precise date and location of the talks have not yet been announced.
North Korea has also agreed to “refrain” from missile and nuclear testing, Chung said, and “understands” that an upcoming ROK-U.S. joint military exercise in the South will go ahead.
“The Republic of Korea, the United States and our partners stand together to insist that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, and the pressure will continue until North Korea matches its words with concrete action,” he added.
In a tweet following Chung’s announcement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Trump had accepted the invitation, while stressing that the U.S. campaign of “maximum pressure” will continue.
“He will accept the invitation to meet w/ Kim Jong Un at a place & time to be determined,” she said. “We look forward to the denuclearization of NK. In the meantime all sanctions & maximum pressure must remain.”
President Trump also tweeted following the news, saying that planning for the meeting was underway.
“Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze,” he said. “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!”
South Korea’s President on Friday said the Kim-Trump meeting in May would be a major turning point for the peninsula.
“The meeting in May will be recorded as a historical milestone for creating peace of the Korean peninsula in the future,” Moon was quoted as having said by presidential spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom.
“The complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula will enter a full-fledged track if U.S. President Donald Trump and chairman Kim Jong Un conduct an inter-Korean summit,” he added.
“I express deep gratitude for the courage and wisdom of the two leaders who have made a difficult decision,” Moon continued.
“In particular, President Trump’s leadership, which has willingly accepted chairman Kim Jong Un’s invitation, will be praised by the people of North and South Korea, and by extension people around the world hoping for peace.”
North Korea is yet to comment on the news through any of its official state media.
The President earlier in the day hinted that a major announcement from the South Korean delegation, who arrived in the U.S. today to brief White House officials on their meeting earlier in the week with Kim Jong Un, was on its way.
Chung will now visit China and Russia to discuss the meeting, while ROK National Intelligence Service (NIS) director Suh Hoon – who also visited the North this week – heads to Japan.
The summit will represent the first meeting between a sitting U.S. President and a North Korean leader in history, and will come following a planned meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April.
The South Korean delegation returned from a two-day visit to the North on Tuesday afternoon, telling press at a briefing on the trip that, in talks with ROK officials, Kim Jong Un had expressed a “willingness” to denuclearize should his country receive security guarantees.
The North Korean leader also reportedly said he was willing to have an “open-hearted dialogue with the U.S.” on denuclearization and normalizing DPRK-U.S. relations, as well as committing to a freeze of nuclear and missile testing while dialogue was ongoing.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday struck a more cautious tone, telling a press conference in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa that negotiations between North Korean and the U.S. was not likely anytime soon.
“We need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it,” Tillerson said at the press conference.
“I think the first step, and I’ve said this before, is to have talks, to have some kind of talks about talks.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – who is set to meet with Trump in Washington DC in April ahead of the President’s summit with Kim Jong Un – said that he welcomed the “change” from North Korea.
“The stance by Japan and the U.S. remains unchanged — that they will continue their maximum pressure until North Korea takes concrete action toward complete, verifiable and irreversible disposal of its nuclear and missile programs,” Abe said, following a phone call with President Trump.
Two high-level North Korean delegations visiting the South in February, one delivering an invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang and the other expressing their intention to talk with the U.S.
President Trump while on the campaign trail in 2016 suggested he would be open to “eating a hamburger on a conference table” with the North Korean leader.
But since taking office the Trump administration has taken a more hardline position: pushing a policy of “maximum pressure” on North Korea while continuing its predecessor’s stance that the DPRK must express a commitment to denuclearization if talks are to take place.
One expert told NK News that Thursday’s news suggests that this policy has, for the time being, “worked.”
“His pressure policy has succeeded in stopping the North Korean missile program, and basically pushed them to the negotiating table,” said Andrei Lankov, director of the Korea Risk Group, which owns and operates NK News.
“However, this does not mean this policy will keep working,” he warned. “Trump is likely to push for greater concessions, and there are limits of how hard he can push.”
“Most likely the North Koreans are going to win time, but if the U.S. starts pushing too hard for denuclearization Trump won’t get what he wants and it might backfire.”
Should the meeting go ahead, it would represent the most high profile meeting between a sitting U.S. government official and a DPRK leader since then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met the late Kim Jong Il in 2000.
Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons, Rodong Sinmun, edited by NK News