NEW YORK/ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday played down the chances of a quick deal in getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms as a delegation from Pyongyang headed to meet him with a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, suggesting a proposed summit may be back on.
Trump told Reuters he was still hoping for an unprecedented meeting with Kim on June 12 in Singapore to push for North Korean “denuclearization,” but North Korea’s leader said his position on that central issue had not changed.
“I’d like to see it done in one meeting,” Trump said in an interview on Air Force One. “But often times that’s not the way deals work. There’s a very good chance that it won’t be done in one meeting or two meetings or three meetings. But it’ll get done at some point.”
In Pyongyang, Kim gave no indication of any shift on denuclearization, saying his country’s will to see it realized on the Korean peninsula remained “unchanged, consistent and fixed,” and that he hoped North Korea-U.S. relations and denuclearization of the peninsula would both be solved on a “stage-by-stage” basis.
The official Korean Central News Agency said Kim made the remarks in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and that the two agreed their countries should hold a bilateral summit next year.
Until this year, Kim had made no visits outside his country since taking over from his father as leader in 2011. He has since held summits with South Korea and made two visits to China as part of a campaign of diplomatic outreach aimed at easing Pyongyang’s isolation and U.S.-led international sanctions.
North Korea has rejected U.S. calls for its unilateral nuclear disarmament and argued for a “phased” approach to denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula, which in the past has meant removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella protecting South Korea and Japan.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said a North Korean delegation, headed by high-ranking official Kim Yong Chol, with whom he held two days of talks with in New York, would make a rare visit to the White House on Friday and give Trump a letter from Kim.
The letter appeared to be in response to a comment from Trump last Thursday when he canceled the summit, accusing Pyongyang of hostility, but urged the North Korean leader to “call me or write” if he had a change of heart.
Kim’s letter seemed to be a sign that the summit might now go ahead. There has been a flurry of diplomatic efforts in the past few days to get it back on track.
North Korea, whose nuclear ambitions have been a source of tension for decades, has made advances in missile technology in recent years and its nuclear arsenal now threatens the United States.
Trump has sworn not to allow it to develop nuclear missiles that could hit the United States. He wants North Korea to give up its nuclear arms in return for sanctions relief, but the Pyongyang leadership has seen the nuclear program as crucial to its survival and says it cannot give it up without security guarantees.
The North Korean visit to the White House would be the first by a high-level official from the secretive state since 2000, when senior figure Jo Myong Rok met President Bill Clinton in a previous round of U.S. disarmament efforts that failed to bear fruit.