TRUMP BACKS DOWN, SEEKS TO MEET KIM

US pres­i­dent says will do so if con­di­tions are right, in ap­par­ent move to ease ten­sions

New Straits Times - - World -

WASHINGTON

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

Kim Jong-un

Don­ald Trump

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