Trump Says Kim Is Open to Talks After Korea War Games End
People watch a television screen broadcasting a news report, featuring images of U.S. President Donald Trump, center, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea. (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

Trump Says Kim Is Open to Talks After Korea War Games End

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said North Korea’s Kim Jong Un was open to more talks with the U.S. once U.S.-South Korean military exercises end, hours after Seoul reported the fifth ballistic missile test from its northern neighbor in about two weeks.

“He stated, very nicely, that he would like to meet and start negotiations as soon as the joint U.S./South Korea joint exercise are over,” Trump tweeted Saturday about the letter, which was delivered two days ago. No specific timeline was offered.

Trump said Kim had sent “a long letter, much of it complaining about the ridiculous and expensive exercises.” It was unclear if that characterization of the exercises was Kim’s or Trump’s view.

In 2018 Trump, after his first meeting with Kim, called the annual war games “very provocative” and said ending them would “save us a tremendous amount of money.”

The U.S. and South Korea have conducted drills, “largely computer-driven” according to National Security Adviser John Bolton, with fewer troops on the ground.

Trump Says Kim Is Open to Talks After Korea War Games End

Kwon Jong Gun, director-general of the department of American affairs in North Korea, said in a statement released by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency Sunday that Seoul failed to give a plausible explanation for the joint military exercise. He added that South Korea criticizes the North’s “regular measures for conventional weapons modernization.”

“With regard to our test for developing the conventional weapons, even the U.S. president made a remark which in effect recognizes the self-defensive rights of a sovereign state, saying that it is a small missile test which a lot of countries do,” Kwon said, according to KCNA. Seoul should keep in mind that future talks with the U.S. will be held “strictly between the DPRK and the U.S., not between the north and the south,” he said.

In the past two weeks North Korea has tested an increasingly sophisticated, hard-to-track missile system that could wipe out South Korean and Japanese cities -- not to mention U.S. forces based in both countries.

There’s a “high chance” of more missile launches from North Korea following the fifth ballistic test in about two weeks, South Korea said Saturday.

South Korea’s military will conduct further analysis with the U.S. on what it said were likely short-range ballistic missiles fired at 5:34 a.m. and 5:50 a.m. local time on Saturday. The projectiles flew 400 kilometers (249 miles) into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

Trump tweeted that Kim’s letter, which he’d earlier described Friday as very personal, tied the continued missile tests to the joint exercises.

“It was also a small apology for testing the short range missiles, and that this testing would stop when the exercises end,” Trump said. “I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un in the not too distant future!”

Trump and his team contend that diplomacy with North Korea remains on track, thanks in part to his personal rapport with Kim. They say Kim has kept his word by holding off testing a nuclear weapon or launching longer-range missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

The recent missile launches show the limits of Trump’s personal diplomacy. When Trump met Kim six weeks ago at the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea, he predicted working-level talks would begin in two to three weeks. They haven’t so far.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has hinted that the U.S. might be sending a sterner message to North Korea privately, while suggesting that North Korea’s missile launches were just part of the diplomatic back-and-forth. Asked at a news conference on Tuesday if the launches sour the environment for talks, Pompeo responded simply, “No.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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