U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an interview in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Trump Says He'd Meet North Korea's Kim If Conditions Right

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Donald Trump said he would meet with Kim Jong Un amid heightened tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program if the circumstances were right.

“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it,” Trump said Monday in an Oval Office interview with Bloomberg News. “If it’s under the, again, under the right circumstances. But I would do that.”

The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, and as recently as last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. would negotiate with Kim’s regime only if it made credible steps toward giving up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Trump Says He'd Meet North Korea's Kim If Conditions Right

Trump speaks during an interview in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 1.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“Most political people would never say that,” Trump said of his willingness to meet with the reclusive Kim, “but I’m telling you under the right circumstances I would meet with him. We have breaking news.”

Asked later about Trump’s comments, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that “clearly conditions are not there right now” for a meeting. He said “we’ve got to see their provocative behavior ratcheted down.”

North Korea has become the most urgent national security threat and foreign policy issue facing Trump as his first 100 days in office passed. Kim’s regime has continued developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in defiance of international condemnation and sanctions. Military analysts have said North Korea is on course to develop a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile that could reach the U.S. mainland as soon as 2020, during Trump’s term in office.

Trump Says He'd Meet North Korea's Kim If Conditions Right

Even if the conditions were right, from the U.S. perspective, a meeting would be unlikely. Kim has not met any major world leader since taking charge after his father’s death in late 2011 and hasn’t left his isolated country. His nuclear program gives him prestige at home. And leaving North Korea, even for a short period, could expose him to the risk of a coup by opponents in the military or Pyongyang’s elite, analysts say.

“They won’t meet anytime in the near future,” said historian Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, when asked about a potential meeting ahead of the Trump interview. “Negotiations are not going to work because North Korea is never going to denuclearize.”

Kim’s predecessors weren’t much more accessible or cooperative. Over more than two decades, six-nation talks, bilateral negotiations, food aid and UN sanctions have all failed to deter the Kim dynasty’s quest for a nuclear arsenal. That has left the Trump administration relying increasingly on China, North Korea’s neighbor and top trading partner, to exert pressure on the regime.

While Trump didn’t spell out what conditions would have to be met for him to sit down with Kim, Evans Revere, a former U.S. diplomat in South Korea, said “it’s almost impossible to imagine North Korea meeting the conditions that would allow such a meeting to occur.”

“North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty when it was caught cheating, violated every one of the denuclearization commitments it made, and now threatens the United States and its allies with nuclear weapons,” Revere, a senior adviser at the Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington, said in an email. “That’s hardly the basis for a presidential meeting with Kim Jong Un.”  

Tensions have escalated since Trump vowed in January that he wouldn’t let North Korea develop a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the U.S., and North Korea has labeled American military moves in the region as acts of “intimidation and blackmail.” North Korea has continued to test missiles this year after carrying out two nuclear tests last year.

While dispatching an aircraft carrier group and a submarine to the region, the Trump administration has emphasized the use of economic sanctions and diplomacy to persuade North Korea to curtail its nuclear program. Trump has said he’s encouraged by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to defuse the situation. Trump and Xi met last month at the U.S. president’s private club in Florida and have talked several times since.

Then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was the last top U.S. official to meet with a North Korean leader. She discussed the country’s nuclear program with Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, in 2000. At the time, she was the most senior official to visit years since the Korean War.