President Trump announced Friday that his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will take place as originally planned on June 12 in Singapore as the start of a “process” to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons.
Emerging from a historic and rare 90-minute-plus Oval Office meeting with a top North Korean official, Mr. Trump told reporters that the summit is back on, after he canceled it last week.
“You people are going to have to travel, because you’ll be in Singapore on June 12th,” he told reporters awaiting word of the meeting. “I think we’re going to have a relationship, and it will start on June 12.”
But the president downplayed expectations for a quick deal on Pyongyang giving up its nuclear weapons, saying such an agreement won’t be signed in Singapore, and the meeting will serve as the start of a process.
“I think you’ll have a very positive result in the end — not from one meeting,” Mr. Trump said. “I told them today, take your time, we can go fast or we can go slowly.”
Mr. Trump also revealed that he told North Korean vice chairman Kim Yong-chol that the U.S. will hold off on imposing more economic sanctions against Pyongyang while they are working towards a denuclearization agreement.
“We had hundreds of new sanctions ready to go on,” Mr. Trump said. “I said I’m not going to put them on until such time as the talks break down. We have hundreds [of sanctions] that are ready to go. I said, ‘Would I do that when we’re talking so nicely?’”
The president even shunned, for the moment, using the term “maximum pressure campaign,” a favorite phrase of his in describing the economic and potential military consequences to Pyongyang if it refuses to negotiate.
“I don’t even want to use the term ‘maximum pressure’ anymore, because we’re getting along,” the president said. “It’s not a question of maximum pressure.”
He said the North Koreans asked about the lifting of sanctions, adding, “I look forward to the day I when I can take the sanctions off.”
Kim Yong-chul arrived at the White House Friday afternoon after two days of talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, bearing a letter for Mr. Trump from Mr. Kim. The White House gave him a respectful greeting upon his arrival, with White House chief of staff John F. Kelly meeting him at the ceremonial diplomatic entrance on the South Lawn in full view of television cameras and photographers.
Mr. Kelly then escorted the North Korean delegation along the Rose Garden colonnade to the Oval Office, where they met with Mr. Trump, Mr. Pompeo and others.
Asked by reporters about the contents of Mr. Kim’s letter, the president initially described it as “very nice” and “interesting.” Less than ten minutes later, he acknowledged that he hadn’t yet opened it.
“I may be in for a big surprise, folks,” he joked.
Among the topics discussed with Kim Yong-chol were the economic rehabilitation of North Korea, the process of denuclearization and even signing an agreement to formally end the Korean War, in which a truce was signed in 1953 separating North and South Korea along a demilitarized zone.
The president said an agreement to end the war is among the more likely prospects to result from the Singapore summit.
“That’s something that could come out of the meeting,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “We talked about ending the war. It’s very important historically. Can you believe we’re talking about ending the Korean War?”
He also told Kim Yong-chol that he “didn’t like” the fact that Russia’s foreign minister met Thursday in Pyongyang with Mr. Kim, extending an invitation for him to come to Moscow.
“But it could be a positive,” Mr. Trump said.
After several rounds of negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea at various levels, Mr. Trump said he is convinced that Pyongyang is sincere about giving up its weapons programs in exchange for economic benefits. Asked if he believes that North Korea can transform its society with the unpredictable Mr. Kim remaining in power, the president said, “I really think you can.”
He said he has been advising South Korea and Japan that they will shoulder most of the cost of any economic aid for North Korea that would result from a denuclearization agreement.
“They want to develop as a country. I don’t think the United States is going to have to spend,” Mr. Trump said. “South Korea will do it. I don’t see the United States spending a lot of money.”