The White House on Friday appeared to set new conditions for a meeting between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, saying that the North must take “concrete steps” toward denuclearizing for the U.S. to follow through on Trump’s acceptance of Kim’s invitation the previous evening.
U.S. and South Korean officials shocked the international community on Thursday by announcing that Kim had extended an invitation, and the president accepted, to meet directly with Trump by May, agreeing in the meantime to halt the country’s missile tests and signaling that it would be open to ending its nuclear weapons program.
But during the White House briefing on Friday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders framed the matter of denuclearization as a precondition to any direct meeting between Trump and Kim, setting up a potential hurdle to negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea.
“Let’s not forget that the North Koreans did promise something. They’ve promised to denuclearize,” Sanders told reporters. “They’ve promised to stop nuclear and missile testing and they’ve recognized that we’re going to continue in our military exercises.”
Sanders disputed the assertion that a summit between Kim and Trump would take place without major concessions from North Korea on its weapons program.
“Let’s be very clear, the United States has made zero concessions but North Korea has made some promises,” she added, “and again, this meeting won’t take place without concrete actions that match the promises that have been made by North Korea.”
Trump on Thursday hailed the latest developments between the two estranged nations as “great progress,” while adding that the U.S. would not ease sanctions on North Korea until it tempered its nuclear ambitions.
Sanders reiterated on Friday that the U.S. would not let up in its campaign to apply pressure to the country, despite the seeming thaw in diplomatic relations.
“The maximum pressure campaign, we’re not letting up, we’re not going to step back or make any changes to that,” she said.
Chung Eui-yong, the South Korean national security adviser, announced on Thursday evening outside the White House that Kim had extended an olive branch of sorts to the U.S. leader, adding that “President Trump appreciated the greeting and said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.”