TRUMP BACKS DOWN, SEEKS TO MEET KIM
US president says will do so if conditions are right, in apparent move to ease tensions
UNITED States President Donald Trump said on Monday he would be “honoured” to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un under the right conditions, in comments that contrasted with earlier threats of military action.
As Pyongyang threatened to carry out a sixth nuclear test that would inflame tensions, Trump appeared to offer the prospect of a diplomatic off-ramp.
“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would, absolutely. I would be honoured to do it. If it’s under the, again, under the right circumstances. But I would do that,” Trump said in an interview with Bloomberg.
South Korean analysts said the US president was “groping for an exit” after weeks of tensions over the North’s weapons ambitions.
Trump’s main gambit had been to encourage China to use its leverage to pressure Pyongyang — a strategy that failed to produce results in the past. The president had also said he was ready to act alone.
However, on Monday, he signalled that this could involve face-to-face talks with Kim, who had yet to meet a foreign leader since taking power.
“Following weeks of huffing and puffing, Trump is groping for an exit,” said Hong Hyun-ik of Sejong University in Seoul.
“True to his mentality as a businessman, he has driven the situation close to the edge, but stopped short of pushing it over the cliff in order to get the upper hand in future negotiations.”
In the latest rhetoric, North Korea warned on Monday that it was prepared to carry out another test “at any time and at any location” set by its leadership.
Trump on Sunday repeated his determination to resolve the North Korean threat, warning in a CBS interview: “We cannot let what’s been going on for a long period of years continue.”
But the US leader also offered some backhanded praise for Kim, saying he had faced a formidable challenge in taking over the country at a reported age of 27.
“He’s dealing with obviously very tough people, in particular the generals and others. And at a very young age, he was able to assume power,” Trump said on CBS’s Face the Nation.
“So obviously, he’s a pretty smart cookie,” he said.
That comment left the White House struggling to downplay Trump’s apparent admiration.
“His point was he assumed power at a young age when his father died, and there’s a lot of threats that could have come his way, and he’s obviously managed to lead a country forward,” said Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
In Beijing, China yesterday demanded an immediate halt to a controversial US missile shield hours after Washington announced that the defence system was operational in South Korea.
Washington and Seoul agreed to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) battery deployment in July, but the move had infuriated China.
“We oppose the deployment of the THAAD system and urge relevant sides to immediately stop it. We will take measures to uphold our interests,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
But while lashing out at the deployment, the Foreign Ministry expressed support for Trump’s surprise comments to meet Kim. Agencies