As news broke Thursday evening that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un had extended an invitation to meet with President Donald Trump, excited talk of a denuclearized North Korea began; Trump even seemed to suggest the possibility on Twitter:
Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2018
But as has become par for the course over the last year, clarification and a little rhetorical walk-back was necessary. Both the White House, in a background call Thursday, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated that the agreement to meet is just that: an agreement to meet, not a negotiation of terms or strategy to denuclearize Kim’s regime. A senior administration official had this to say Thursday in a background call with reporters:
When President Trump came into office in January of last year, he determined on day one that the urgent matter of denuclearizing North Korea was something that would require a new approach. It would require us avoiding the mistakes that have been made over the past 27 years of dialogue and failed approaches to denuclearizing North Korea.
So, in short, within a matter of weeks, the administration had developed a policy that the President signed to maximize pressure on North Korea. That meant maximizing economic pressure. It meant isolating North Korea diplomatically, and marshaling not only our resources, not only the resources of our allies and friends, but really of the entire world to resolve something that is destabilizing to the region and really to the world at large.
And so in the year that he’s pursued that policy, he has always left the door open to dialogue of some kind. He’s left the door open to dialogue at the right time. And today, he was briefed by President Moon’s — a couple of national security officials — his National Security Advisor Chung Eui-Yong and his Intelligence Director Suh Hoon — who came into the Oval, gave a briefing to the President, as well as several Cabinet officials — General McMaster, Secretary Mattis, Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan, Chief of Staff General Kelly, Director Dan Coats, and CIA Deputy Director Gina Haskell — and explained the — and conveyed a message from Kim Jong-un to the President.
Part of that message was a commitment to denuclearize. It also was a commitment to refrain from testing nuclear weapons or missiles.
And so President Trump has agreed to accept an invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un in a matter of a couple of months. And the exact timing and place is still to be determined.
[In response to a question]…At this point we’re not even talking about negotiations, right? What we’re talking about is an invitation by the leader of North Korea to meet face to face with the President of the United States. The President has accepted that invitation.
Tillerson echoed those sentiments Thursday while on a state visit to Africa:
While traveling in Africa, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson struck a cautious tone Thursday on the prospect of U.S.-North Korean negotiations. The top U.S. diplomat made it clear that massive bilateral breakthroughs were not to happen overnight.
“We are a long ways from negotiations,” Tillerson said. “We need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it. I think the first step, and I’ve said this before, is to have talks, to have some kind of talks about talks.”
Vice President Pence said in a statement released by the White House Friday that the U.S. made “zero concessions” to bring Kim to the table, and instead maintained a successful strategy of applying pressure to the regime.
In the same statement, Pence said the North Korean shift “is evidence that President Trump’s strategy to isolate the Kim regime is working.”
President Trump has credited China with helping to clear a path for U.S. nuclear discussions with North Korea.