Trump announcement on talks with North Korea gets mixed reactions

U.S. President Donald Trump says he is prepared to meet North Korea's Kim Jong-un, in what would be the first face-to-face encounter between leaders from the two countries. The governments of China and Russia, which joined years of sporadic talks with Pyongyang, welcomed the news.

Russia and China, which joined years of sporadic talks with Pyongyang, welcome the development

U.S. President Donald Trump has accepted an offer of a summit from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (Kevin Lamarque/KCNA/Reuters)

World leaders welcomed prospects for a possible thaw in the long standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program on Friday after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was prepared to hold an unprecedented meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Trump and Kim prompted jitters around the world last year as they exchanged bellicose insults over the North's attempts to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States, which it has pursued in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

But tension eased around last month's Winter Olympics in South Korea, laying the groundwork for what would be the first meeting between leaders from North Korea and the U.S., and the biggest foreign policy gamble for Trump since he took office in January last year.

"A meeting is being planned," Trump said on Twitter after accepting an invitation to meet from Kim. There was no date or venue yet for the meeting although it could take place in May.

'Diplomatic solution'

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland's said in a statement that Canada has "always believed that a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis is essential and possible."

Canada and the U.S. recently co-hosted a summit in Vancouver to discuss efforts to find a peaceful path to deal with North Korea's nuclear and ballistic weapon programs.

In a phone call on Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Trump that he appreciates his desire to resolve the North Korea issue politically, Chinese state media said.

Xi said he "hopes the United States and North Korea start contacts and dialogue as soon as possible and strive to reach positive results," the report said.

China is North Korea's largest trading partner and sole major ally, though overall trade has fallen in recent months as UN economic sanctions take effect. Trump has frequently tried to enlist Xi's help to rein in Pyongyang.

Russia, which has joined years of on-again, off-again six-party talks, along with the U.S., the two Koreas and Japan, aimed at ending the standoff, welcomed the new positive signals.

Japan, however, remained cautious.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump, in a call on Thursday, vowed to continue to enforce sanctions until Pyongyang took "tangible steps … toward denuclearization," the White House said in a statement late Thursday.

"Japan and the United States will not waver in their firm stance that they will continue to put maximum pressure until North Korea takes concrete action toward the complete, verifiable and irreversible end to nuclear missile development," Abe told reporters in Tokyo.

Saša Petricic reports on the South Korea reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump agreeing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un 1:39

Trump has derided the North Korean leader as a "maniac," referred to him as "little rocket man" and threatened in a speech to the United Nations last year to "totally destroy" Kim's country of 26 million people if it attacked the U.S. or one of its allies.

Kim responded by calling the U.S. president a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard."

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who led the pursuit of detente with North Korea during his country's hosting of the Winter Olympics, said the summit would set a course for denuclearization, according to a presidential spokesperson.

Kim Jong-un, front right, shakes hands with South Korean national security director Chung Eui-yong in Pyongyang on Monday. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. (Korean Central News Agency/Associated Press)

Trump had agreed to meet Kim without any preconditions, another South Korean official said.

Asian stock markets rose on the news, with Japan's Nikkei ending up 0.5 per cent and South Korean stocks more than one per cent higher. The U.S. dollar also rose against the safe-haven Japanese yen.

"It's good news, no doubt," said Hong Chun-Uk, chief economist at Kiwoom Securities in Seoul. "But this will likely prove to be only a short-lived factor unless more and stronger actions follow."

Trump had previously said he was willing to meet Kim under the right circumstances but had indicated the time was not right for such talks. He mocked U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October for "wasting his time" trying to talk to North Korea.

Tillerson said earlier on Thursday during a visit to Africa that, although "talks about talks" might be possible with Pyongyang, denuclearization negotiations were likely a long way off.

'No missiles tests'

"Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze," Trump said on 
Twitter on Thursday night. "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."

A meeting between Kim and Trump, whose exchange of insults had raised fear of war, would be a major turnaround after a year in which North Korea has carried out a battery of tests aimed at developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

What is new isn't the proposal. It's the response.- Daniel Russel, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific

Trump's aides have been wary of North Korea's diplomatic overtures because of its history of reneging on international commitments and the failure of efforts on disarmament by previous U.S. administrations.

South Koreans responded positively to the news, with online comments congratulating Moon for laying the groundwork for the Trump-Kim talks. Some even suggested Moon should receive the Nobel Peace prize, although scepticism over previous failed talks remained.

North and South Korea, where the U.S. stations 28,500 troops, are technically still at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire, not a truce.

'It made sense'

Daniel Russel, until last April the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, the most senior U.S. diplomatic position for Asia, said he wanted to see detail and hear from North Korea on the plans.

"Also remember that [North Korea] has for many years proposed that the president of the United States personally engage with North Korea's leaders as an equal — one nuclear power to another," he said. "What is new isn't the proposal. It's the response."

A senior administration official told Reuters that Trump agreed to the meeting because it "made sense to accept an invitation to meet with the one person who can actually make decisions instead of repeating the sort of long slog of the 
past."

"President Trump has made his reputation on making deals," the official said.

Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Trump's firm stance on North Korea gave the best hope in decades to resolve the threat peacefully.

"A word of warning to North Korean President Kim Jong Un — the worst possible thing you can do is meet with President Trump in person and try to play him," Graham said on Twitter. "If you do that, it will be the end of you — and your regime."

A leading Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives said the Republican president would need help from others in the U.S. government if he is to go head-to-head with Kim over such a complex issue as nuclear weapons and geostrategy.

"It will require the President to rely on the expertise within the State Department, the Intelligence Community, and throughout the government, and not simply on his own estimation of his skills as a deal maker," Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in statement.

Some U.S. officials and experts worry North Korea could buy time to build up and refine its nuclear arsenal if it drags out talks with Washington.

'Tangible steps'

In what would be a key North Korean concession, Chung, the South Korean official, said Kim understood that "routine" joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. must continue.

Pyongyang had previously demanded that such joint drills, which it has said it sees as a preparation for invasion, be suspended in order for any U.S. talks to go forward.

Tensions over North Korea rose to their highest in years in 2017 and the Trump administration warned that all options were on the table, including military ones, in dealing with Pyongyang.

South Korean and U.S. Marines take positions as amphibious assault vehicles of the South Korean Marine Corps fire smoke bombs during a U.S.-South Korea joint landing operation drill in Pohang, South Korea, in 2016. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

Signs of a thaw emerged this year, with North and South Korea resuming talks and North Korea attending the Winter Olympics. During the Pyongyang talks this week, the two Koreas agreed on a summit in late April, their first since 2007.

With files from CBC News