Trump's Quick Agreement to Kim Meeting a Surprise, Diplomat Says
A man watches a television screen showing showing an image of Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea during a news broadcast. (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

Trump's Quick Agreement to Kim Meeting a Surprise, Diplomat Says

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Donald Trump’s immediate willingness to meet Kim Jong Un for nuclear talks likely caught the North Korean leader by surprise, forcing him to consider his position before responding publicly, the South Korean foreign minister said.

“We were all quite surprised by the readiness of that decision,” South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “It was an extremely courageous decision on the part of President Trump. We believe the North Korean leader is now taking stock.”

Trump's Quick Agreement to Kim Meeting a Surprise, Diplomat Says

Trump agreed to meet with Kim on March 8 after a briefing from South Korean officials. The summit, expected to take place in a few months, would represent the first time a U.S. president has met a North Korean leader -- either Kim or his father or grandfather -- and is part of an overall strategy to dismantle that nation’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program.

Pyongyang has already detonated what it described as a hydrogen bomb capable of riding an intercontinental ballistic missile to cities across the U.S., and Kim has threatened to use nuclear arms against Americans.

The summit, if it occurs, will likely follow an already-scheduled meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to take place in South Korea, at which denuclearization will also be discussed, Kang said.

Denuclearization Commitment

Trump and Moon -- who encouraged the talks -- have agreed that “concrete actions, not words will be the key to achieving permanent denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” according to a White House statement.

Asked on CBS whether North Korea must meet any preconditions, Kang said, “in effect, they already have. We have asked the North to indicate in clear terms the commitment to denuclearization, and he has in fact conveyed that commitment.”

Trump's Quick Agreement to Kim Meeting a Surprise, Diplomat Says

That means Kim has given his word, Kang said. While North Korea would be entering the talks in a position of relative military strength, it is economically weak, and South Korea and the U.S. are offering nothing in return for talks, she said.

“We have made it clear that we will engage, but there will be no reward for dialogue,” Kang said.

Kang, 62, has been in Washington for talks with White House and congressional officials. She was slated to meet with Trump’s daughter and special assistant, Ivanka Trump, following the ouster of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, according to KBS World Radio. Kang also was expected to visit Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and House Speaker Paul Ryan, according to The Hill.

Kang’s visit to the U.S. comes as South Korea lobbies the U.S. for an exemption from Trump’s planned tariff on steel imports, which she said “coming at this particular time, it’s not helpful.”

South Korea, home to Posco and other steelmakers, is the third-largest exporter of the metal to the United States behind Canada and Brazil. It’s responsible for 10 percent of U.S. steel imports, according to a report from the International Trade Administration.

South Korea’s top trade minister has met with key U.S. officials to push for an exemption. Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon amplified that request in writing last week.

Country Exemptions

Trump has already excluded Australia and, at least temporarily, Mexico and Canada, from a 25 percent tariff on steel and the 10 percent levy on aluminum. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is mulling what other countries should be spared.

Trump's Quick Agreement to Kim Meeting a Surprise, Diplomat Says

Trump has hinted the administration might roll back military support for South Korea over trade, according to an audio recording of a speech he delivered last week to donors in Missouri, which was obtained by the Washington Post. That didn’t go unnoticed, Kang said.

“Any time troops are mentioned, it raises eyebrows,” she said. “It has caught attention, but we are absolutely confident of the American commitment to the alliance and the troop presence in our country.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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