American President Donald Trump expressed optimism about a planned meeting with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un to occur in May or early June, telling reporters on Thursday, “I think it will be terrific.”
Trump made the remark while meeting lawmakers at the White House, according to the South Korean outlet Yonhap.
“Meetings are being set up right now between myself and Kim Jong-un,” he reportedly said. “I think it will be terrific. I think we’ll go in with a lot of respect and we’ll see what happens, but China has really helped us at the border and we appreciate it.”
Following a visit to Pyongyang, a top South Korean official announced at the White House in March that communist leader Kim Jong-un had invited Trump to meet in person and discuss “denuclearization.” Trump accepted the invite, though a time and place for the meeting to occur has not yet been agreed upon. At the time of the announcement, Kim had never conducted a visit to a foreign country as head of state.
This month, Kim changed that, taking a surprise trip to Beijing to meet with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping. China is by far North Korea’s largest trading partner and closest ally, primarily responsible for ensuring that Kim stays in power through guaranteeing trade and support at the United Nations. China has nonetheless supported some new UN sanctions on the Kim regime this year, a sign the relationship between Xi and Kim has soured.
Kim’s trip to Beijing appeared to help repair that situation. Xi Jinping reportedly gave Kim and wife Ri Sol-ju gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars – a violation of UN sanctions on luxury goods – and the two agreed on deepening ties between their two communist governments.
During remarks Thursday, Trump praised China for helping facilitate dialogue with North Korea.
“They are very much helping us at the border of North Korea and they’re continuing to, and you know, they view it as something they should do,” Trump explained, adding that China had been “really terrific” in the process. “I think it’s certainly very beneficial to them. Getting rid of nuclear weapons is very good for them and good for everybody, but they have really been a great help to us at the border of North Korea.”
Before Kim meets Trump, he will have a sit-down with South Korean leftist President Moon Jae-in. That meeting is scheduled to take place on April 27 in Panmunjom, a town on the Korean border. The building hosting the meeting is on the South Korea side. South Korean national security chief Chung Eui-yong, who announced the Kim-Trump meeting at the White House last month, met with newly minted National Security Adviser John Bolton on Thursday to prepare for that meeting.
Chung described his conversation with Bolton as “very informative.”
“The success of both the inter-Korean summit and the North Korea-U.S. summit is important, so we had a wide-ranging exchange of views on various ways to make them a success and peacefully achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he added.
Multiple reports in the past month citing Kim Jong-un himself state that the North Korean regime is open to “denuclearization,” which Western news outlets have interpreted as a complete shutdown of the illegal North Korean nuclear program. This weekend, the White House announced that, in direct talks with Pyongyang, North Korean officials stated they were open to discussing “denuclearization.” The South Korean outlet Joongang Ilbo cited a source in Washington who stated that the two sides were seeking a “package settlement” that would also address North Korean concerns. That package settlement may contain an agreement on what many observers argue is what North Korea means by “denuclearization”: the removal of U.S. nuclear assets from the peninsula.
North Korea’s state media – the only legal media in the country – have not mentioned denuclearization, which means North Koreans do not know that that is on the table. This week marked the first time that media hinted at the possibility of a Trump-Kim meeting at all, quoting Kim as mentioning “the prospect of the DPRK-U.S. dialogue” without further context. DPRK stands for the official name of North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.