WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said South Korea will be making a “major statement” about North Korea on Thursday evening.
After his teasing announcement to reporters in a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room, Trump was asked whether the announcement would be about talks with North Korea and he told ABC reporter Jon Karl: “It’s almost beyond that. Hopefully, you will give me credit.”
Trump spoke after South Korean officials briefed the White House on the outcome of their pathfinding meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Seoul has already publicized that North Korea offered talks with the United States on denuclearization and normalizing ties, a potential diplomatic opening after a year of escalating tensions over the North’s nuclear and missile tests. The rival Koreas also agreed to hold a leadership summit in late April.
Top Trump administration officials got a chance to hear firsthand Thursday from South Korean national security director, Chung Eui-yong, who led the delegation that went to Pyongyang and met Kim on Monday.
Chung told reporters on Tuesday that he received a message from North Korea intended for the United States, but didn’t disclose what it was. According to Chung, the North also agreed to suspend nuclear and missile tests during future talks with Washington — a longstanding U.S. demand.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the South Korean statement would be made by Chung outside the White House. Trump said it was planned for 7 p.m. (2400GMT).
The president’s appearance caught reporters and staffers by surprise, with both converging on Trump from front and back to hear what he had to say. Two U.S. officials said it was Trump’s personal decision to order up a statement, adding it was obviously not planned. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.
The chaotic scene comes amid a period of unparalleled tumult across all areas of the West Wing staff.
On Tuesday, Trump had expressed both hope and skepticism about the reported offer of talks, which has yet to be confirmed, at least publicly, by the isolated North Korean government. While the path to a diplomatic resolution over the North’s nuclear arsenal would be long and difficult, talks could dampen fears of war breaking out over what represents an emerging threat to the U.S. mainland.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday in Ethiopia that the U.S. has seen “potentially positive signals” from North Korea, but the adversaries are still a long way from holding negotiations.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.