WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he has received a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and will be setting up a meeting with Kim “in the not-too-distant future” to restart talks about the North’s nuclear programs.
"He'd like to meet. I'd like to meet," Trump said as he held up the letter during a Cabinet meeting.
Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted: "Kim Jong Un says North Korea will not make or test nuclear weapons, or give them to others — & he is ready to meet President Trump anytime."
Kim has met several times with the leader of South Korea and attended a summit in Singapore with Trump in June. Kim has signed vague statements pledging a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, but has not described how and when that might occur.
North Korea's stance may put future talks with the U.S. in jeopardy.
In a New Year's message, Kim hinted at a possible cap on nuclear weapons production if the U.S. took equivalent steps. He did not elaborate. He also stood by his commitment on denuclearization, which does not mean the unilateral ridding of the North's arsenal. Both areas need to be further clarified in negotiations.
Kim sees such weapons as a valuable deterrent to a possible U.S. military strike. He also believes his weapons put him in a position of strength from which he can make demands and extract concessions.
The message he is conveying to Trump is for the American leader to start addressing his concerns about security and easing sanctions or the North Korean will have no choice but to try a different, less-friendly approach. Kim is warning that he will be able to make a case to China, Russia and possibly even South Korea that if the situation deteriorates, Washington will be to blame.
During the Cabinet meeting, Trump lamented that he's not been given enough credit for opening a dialogue with North Korea. Trump said his engagement with North Korea helped stave off what he said "could have been World War III."
But he and Kim spent most of 2017 exchanging personal insults and war threats before agreeing to their meeting in Singapore.
"You know, frankly, if this administration didn't take place, if another administration came in instead of this administration ... you'd be at war right now," he told reporters. "You'd be having a nice, big fat war in Asia. And it wouldn't be pleasant."
North Korea has warned it could revive a state policy aimed at strengthening its nuclear arsenal if the United States does not lift economic sanctions against the country.
Before Trump took office, the United States engaged in four major negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs, stretching from the mid-1990s to about 2012. All were aimed at getting North Korea to halt or disable its nuclear missile programs in exchange for economic and diplomatic concessions.
Trump also said North Korea has tremendous economic potential so he looked forward to meeting again with Kim. “We’ll set that up,” he said. “We’ll be setting that up in the not too distant future.”