(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump complimented Kim Jong Un as “very honorable” so far and said he hopes to hold his summit with the North Korean leader “very soon.”
The praise for the North Korean leader is a dramatic shift for the U.S., which has long condemned the Kim family dynasty for brutality and deceit. Trump himself last year derided Kim as “Little Rocket Man” and said it is “hard to believe his people, and the military, put up with living in such horrible conditions.”
"We’re having very good discussions,” Trump told reporters at the White House Tuesday during a meeting with visiting French President Emmanuel Macron. “Kim Jong Un -- he really has been very open and I think very honorable from everything we’re seeing.”
An annual human rights report released last week by Trump’s State Department cited North Korea for “egregious human rights violations” including “extrajudicial killings; disappearances; arbitrary arrests and detentions; torture; political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh, life-threatening, and included forced and compulsory labor.”
Trump expressed optimism about the potential for a breakthrough on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program when he and Kim meet.
“I think we have a chance of doing something very special with respect to North Korea -- good for them, good for us, good for everybody,” Trump added.
But, he said, if Kim doesn’t agree to something “fair and reasonable and good, I will, unlike past administrations, I will leave the table.”
Trump said in preparations for the summit the U.S. has “been told directly that they would like to have the meeting as soon as possible."
The president appears to looking to strengthen his North Korea team, with the Washington Post reporting that Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick to become Secretary of State, plans to pull the nomination of Harry Harris as ambassador to Australia and insert him as envoy to South Korea.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop hinted at the switch on Wednesday, saying on Sky TV: "While we would have welcomed Admiral Harris here as Ambassador to Australia we understand that there are significant challenges for the United States on the Korean Peninsula."
Trump last week applauded as “big progress” a pledge by Kim to halt nuclear testing, a largely symbolic gesture that appeared aimed at softening the ground for the talks.
Kim told a ruling party meeting in Pyongyang on Friday his regime would suspend tests of atomic bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles after achieving its goal of building a nuclear arsenal, the official Korean Central News Agency reported. North Korea will shutter its Punggye-ri test site, a secluded mountain facility believed to be damaged after a hydrogen bomb test in September.
While the moves mostly affirmed the status quo -- North Korea hasn’t conducted a major weapons test in almost five months -- Kim’s remarks to a domestic audience could signal flexibility in upcoming talks with the U.S. and South Korea.
Kim plans to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday at a border village, a prelude to the planned summit with Trump, expected in May or June. That meeting --- the first between standing leaders of the U.S. and North Korea -- may take place in Mongolia or Singapore, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported Wednesday.
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