Trump says he would be ‘honored’ to meet with N. Korean leader under right circumstances

May 2, 2017

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, May 1 (Yonhap) — U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday he would be “honored” to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if such a meeting takes place “under the right circumstances,” the first time Trump has expressed his willingness to meet with Kim since taking office.

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“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it,” Trump said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “If it’s under the, again, under the right circumstances. But I would do that.”

Trump said that most political people would never express such a willingness.

“But I’m telling you under the right circumstances I would meet with him,” he said.

Trump did not elaborate on what the “right circumstances” would be.

But his spokesman Sean Spicer said the conditions include, among other things, the North halting provocative behavior.

“We’ve got to see their provocative behavior ratcheted down immediately. There is a lot of conditions that would have to happen with respect to its behavior and to show signs of good faith. Clearly conditions are not there right now,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a regular briefing.

“Those circumstances do not exist now,” he said. “But we want to hold out the possibility that if North Korea were ever serious about completely dismantling its nuclear capability and taking away the threat they pose both to the region and to us that there is always going to be a possibility of that occurring. That possibility is not there at this time.”

It was the first time that Trump has expressed his willingness to meet with the North’s autocratic leader, though he said during last year’s campaigning that he would “accept” the North’s leader to the White House and hold nuclear negotiations with him while eating a “hamburger.”

Trump’s latest remark suggests that the U.S. and the North could ultimately be headed toward negotiations, even though the sides have rattled sabers, flexed muscles against each other and traded belligerent rhetoric warning of war over the past weeks and months.

Last week, the Trump administration also hinted it’s considering dialogue. While unveiling its North Korea policy, the administration said it would ramp up pressure on Pyongyang “through economic sanctions and diplomatic measures” while remaining open to negotiations.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview with NPR the following day that the U.S. is willing to hold “direct talks” with the North if the communist regime is ready to hold negotiations about the “right agenda” of ending its nuclear program.

In recent days, Trump has made a series of positive comments about the North’s leader.

In an interview with the Washington Times Friday, Trump called the North’s leader a “pretty smart cookie,” saying Kim took over power from his father at a young age while dealing with “very tough people” trying to take power away from him, including his uncle that Kim executed.

Trump made a similar remark in an interview with Reuters the previous day, saying it would not have been easy for Kim to take over the North at a young age.

During campaigning, Trump repeatedly stressed he’s an excellent negotiator and is ready to use the skill to regain American interests lost under Democratic administrations. It was believed in that context that he expressed his willingness to meet with the North’s leader.

Trump first expressed the willingness in May last year, drawing criticism not only from critics, but also from his own party that such a meeting would end up bolstering the dictator. He didn’t back down, however, saying the following month that he would “accept him” if the North’s leader visits the U.S.

“Who the hell cares? I’ll talk to anybody,” Trump said at the time.

Trump also said at the time he will only “make a good deal” if he were to hold talks with the North’s leader, and that there’s a “10 percent or 20 percent chance” he could talk Kim out of developing nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, Trump has expressed concerns about the North’s threats.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Trump said the North “weighs on me.”

“But we have to be prepared for the worst,” he said. “We have to be prepared to do what we have to do. We cannot allow this to go on.”

Trump also said in an interview with Fox News set to be aired later in the day that nobody is safe.

“Nobody’s safe. I mean, who’s safe? The guy’s got nuclear weapons,” Trump said, according to Fox News. “I’d like to say they’re very safe. These are great brave solders, these are great brave troops and they know the situation. We have 28,000 troops on the line and they’re right there. And so nobody’s safe. We’re probably not safe over here.”

If the North’s leader “gets the long-range missiles, we’re not safe either,” Trump said.

jschang@yna.co.kr

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