A copy of the Asia Economy newspaper featuring images of U.S. President Donald Trump, left, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, right. (Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg)

Trump Hails `Great Progress’ With Plan to Meet North Korea’s Kim

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Donald Trump hailed “great progress” in talks with North Korea after agreeing to meet Kim Jong Un in what would be an unprecedented summit.

“Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze,” Trump said on Twitter late Thursday in Washington. “Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier the meeting would occur at “a place and time to be determined.” The announcement was first made by South Korean National Security Council chief Chung Eui-yong, who told reporters in Washington that Kim was eager to meet Trump and that the meeting would take place by May.

Trump Hails `Great Progress’ With Plan to Meet North Korea’s Kim

The news sent shockwaves through the U.S. national security community, which has long been skeptical of North Korea’s intentions. Presidential meetings have typically been viewed as a carrot to seal a deal, rather than kick off negotiations.

Asian equity markets gained Friday after the announcement, which sent the yen -- a haven during times of stress -- tumbling at one point the most in more than two weeks against the dollar. As has been the case in the past on geopolitical news on North Korea, immediate moves began to fade as the trading session went on.

An official familiar with the discussions said the U.S. made no concessions in order to pave the way for a meeting and is not backing off on applying sanctions or maximum pressure.

The location for the meeting, and details such as who will be present, are up in the air, an administration official said, adding that Trump plans to speak by phone soon with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Kim is set to meet next month with South Korean President Moon Jae-in across the border in the demilitarized zone, the first time he’s left North Korea since becoming supreme leader.

Trump had been considering the possibility of direct talks for a while, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in Djibouti on Friday. “That’s a decision the president took himself,” he said, after speaking with Trump earlier in the day. Tillerson said it will take “some weeks” to work out the timing and location.

Kim is committed to getting rid of his nuclear weapons and will refrain from nuclear or missile tests, according to Chung, South Korea’s national security adviser, who was in the U.S. capital this week to brief officials about his trip to Pyongyang to meet Kim. The North Korean leader also understands that routine U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises must continue, Chung said, adding that the pressure campaign will continue “until North Korea matches its words with concrete actions.”

The South Korean envoys spoke with Trump for about 45 minutes, according to an official from the nation’s presidential office. Chung told Trump that he felt Kim speaks candidly and is sincere, while at the same time cautioning that past mistakes shouldn’t be repeated. They made their discussion public at Trump’s behest, the official said.

Separately, Chung asked Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to give South Korea an exemption on steel tariffs.

Trump Hails `Great Progress’ With Plan to Meet North Korea’s Kim

“We welcome these positive signals from the U.S. and the DPRK on having direct dialogue” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing in Beijing. "The Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is moving in the right direction, towards settlement."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was less enthusiastic, saying he appreciated North Korea’s “change” and that he planned to visit the U.S. in April. In a call with Trump before the announcement, the leaders agreed to keep enforcing sanctions until “North Korea takes tangible steps toward complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization,” according to the White House. Germany took a similar line, urging international pressure to be maintained.

A summit with an American president has been a top North Korean foreign policy goal for more than 20 years, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said on Twitter.

‘Treat Him as an Equal’

“We need to talk to North Korea,” Lewis wrote. “But Kim is not inviting Trump so that he can surrender North Korea’s weapons. Kim is inviting Trump to demonstrate that his investment in nuclear and missile capabilities has forced the United States to treat him as an equal.”

Trump Hails `Great Progress’ With Plan to Meet North Korea’s Kim

Trump and Kim traded increasingly tense barbs after the U.S. president took office in January 2017. Trump vowed to bring “fire and fury” down on North Korea if forced to do so, while Kim derided the U.S. president as a “dotard” as he ramped up his missile and nuclear tests.

Tensions appeared to ease after South Korea agreed to let North Korean athletes participate in the Winter Olympic Games last month. The detente came after Kim declared that he had the capability to strike the U.S. homeland with a nuclear weapon.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.