N. Korea’s Kim praises Trump, expects ‘step-by-step’ talks

N. Korea would also seek some long-stated goals: The suspension of a military drills and a peace treaty


SEOUL • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un lauded US President Donald Trump and said he expects nuclear negotiations to advance “step-by-step”, state media said, a sign the regime anticipates sanctions relief as the two leaders plan a second meeting next month.

Kim made the remarks on Wednesday during a meeting with North Korean officials who visited the White House last week and spoke with Trump, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Kim praised the US president’s “unusual determination and will for the settlement of the issue” and ordered “technical preparations” for the next meeting between the two leaders.

“Kim said we will believe in the positive way of thinking of Trump, wait with patience and in good faith and, together with the US, advance step by step toward the goal to be reached by the two countries,” the report said. The statement was the first official confirmation that Kim had agreed to a second summit.

Trump sent a personal letter through the delegation, KCNA reported, adding: “Upon receiving the good personal letter sent by Trump, the supreme leader expressed great satisfaction.” The White House confirmed Trump responded to a letter he received from Kim.

Trump, who once ratcheted up tensions by firing off insults on Twitter that included calling Kim a “little rocket man”, has had an old-fashioned correspondence with the North Korean leader as ties have warmed. The two have now established what Trump calls “a very good relationship”.

North Korea has long maintained that “step-by-step” negotiations — indicating a phased approach in which each side gives up a little at a time — were the only way to advance talks. The Trump administration, however, has balked at Kim’s demands for sanctions relief, vowing to maintain pressure until Kim commits to “final, fully verified denuclearisation”.

In addition to potential sanctions relief, North Korea could also be seeking some long-stated goals including the suspension of joint US-South Korean military drills and a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 195053 Korean War, said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The question is obviously what Kim’s next ‘step’ would be,” he said in an email.

The US and North Korea may agree on completing denuclearisation and lifting sanctions by the end of 2020 during their second summit, South Korea’s DongA Ilbo newspaper reported, citing unidentified diplomatic sources. The two countries are close to reaching a comprehensive agreement that includes the timing of North Korea’s denuclearisation and the US’ corresponding measures, the report said.

Trump’s agreement to hold a second meeting with Kim had already been seen as an indication that the US was softening its position, after the North Korean leader threatened to walk away from talks if the American side didn’t ease off. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyungwha said last week that Seoul and Washington were discussing “corresponding measures” to reward Kim’s steps toward denuclearisation.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told the World Economic Forum in Davos the private sector is poised to step in and boost North Korea’s staggering economy if it gives up its nuclear ambitions.