The White House is putting conditions on Donald Trump's promised meeting with North Korea's dictator, weakening expectations that the historic summit would materialize only one day after the President made the surprise decision to accept an invitation.
Mr. Trump's press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said Friday that Mr. Trump would meet Kim Jong-un only if Pyongyang took unspecified actions to prove it was serious about scrapping its nuclear program.
"The President will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete actions take place by North Korea," she said.
Such a condition blunts the impact of the President's decision the previous day, when the White House announced no conditions on Mr. Trump's planned sit-down with Mr. Kim to discuss denuclearization – the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.
Mr. Trump's acceptance of the invitation happened Thursday after he learned that South Korean envoy Chung Eui-yong was at the White House. Mr. Trump invited him to the Oval Office, The New York Times reported, citing an unnamed senior official. Mr. Chung told Mr. Trump that Mr. Kim wanted a meeting with him, Mr. Trump immediately agreed and he sent Mr. Chung to tell reporters.
"Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!" Mr. Trump tweeted.
Speaking to Mr. Trump during a phone call Friday, China's President Xi Jinping said he hopes that the United States and North Korea "will start dialogue as soon as possible and strive for positive results," Chinese state media said.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was more cautious, telling Mr. Trump that his government would continue to enforce sanctions until North Korea took "tangible steps … toward denuclearization," according to a White House statement.
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Canadian government has always believed that a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis is "essential and possible."
Former Canadian ambassador to South Korea Marius Grinius, who was also accredited to Pyongyang, said Mr. Trump will legitimize Mr. Kim if he meets with him – something the North Korean leader has long craved.
"You get into a situation where the U.S. President is recognizing Stalinist dictator with nuclear weapons. He's recognizing him as an equal," Mr. Grinius said. "Kim Jong-un is controlling the situation."
The other dynamic that has changed is South Korea: Seoul is now so afraid of the United States starting a war with the North – given Mr. Trump's threats to rain "fire and fury" on Mr. Kim – that it is much more amenable to talks aimed at turning down the temperature.
North Korea could be using this situation to take advantage of the U.S. and drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul, said Jon Wolfsthal, former president Barack Obama's top adviser on nuclear non-proliferation. At a prospective meeting, for instance, Mr. Kim could agree to give up his atomic arsenal, but only if Washington withdraws all its troops from the Korean peninsula and ends its military alliance with the South. In such a scenario, a U.S. refusal to agree could irritate South Korea by becoming a barrier to a peace deal.
"Kim sees an opportunity to separate the United States from South Korea," said Mr. Wolfsthal, now the director of the Nuclear Crisis Group at Global Zero, an anti-nuclear weapons non-governmental organization.
"This is a no-lose play for the North."
North and South Korea are still technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire. The U.S. currently stations 28,500 troops in the South. Tina Park, executive director of the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and expert on Canada-Korea relations, said Mr. Kim will probably ask for a reduction – if not a complete withdrawal – of U.S. troops on the peninsula.
"There usually is an ulterior motive when it comes to North Korea,"
Ms. Sanders did not commit to a time frame or location for the meeting. North Korea experts speculated on a number of possible meeting locations, including Pyongyang, the Demilitarized Zone or South Korea's Jeju Island.
With a report from Reuters