By Jan Wolfe and Ju-min Park
WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday that Kim Jong Un told him he was ready to resume talks on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and would stop missile testing as soon as U.S.-South Korea military exercises end.
Trump and Kim have met twice since their first summit in Singapore last year, but little progress has been on Washington’s aim of getting the North Korean leader to give up his weapons.
“I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un in the not too distant future!” Trump said on Twitter.
North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range missiles on Saturday, South Korea said, in a “show of force” against the exercises.
More missile launches are highly probable, as the North Korean military is conducting its own summer drills, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.
The exercises are largely computer-simulated as an alternative to previous large-scale annual drills that were halted to expedite denuclearization talks.
In his tweet, Trump said Kim sent him a letter saying “very nicely” that he wanted to meet once the “ridiculous and expensive” U.S.-South Korea exercises were over.
Trump added: “It was also a small apology for testing the short range missiles, and that this testing would stop when the exercises end.”
Saturday’s missile launches were the latest in a recent string of tests by North Korea that have raised questions about the future of dialogue.
Keen to tout his North Korea policy as a success ahead of his 2020 reelection bid, Trump has played down the threat, saying they do not violate Kim’s pledge to forego nuclear and long-range tests.
North Korea’s state media has yet to confirm the launch, but in a commentary on Saturday it blamed the South for “building up arms against dialogue”.
“All the facts prove that the South Korean authorities are hell-bent on arms buildup against their dialogue partner,” the state-run KCNA news agency said.
Kim has decried the U.S.-South Korean drills as a rehearsal for war aimed at toppling its leadership.
The launches were apparently testing capabilities of a new short-range missile Pyongyang is developing, South Korea’s presidential office said.
“Because of concerns that North Korea’s series of launches can raise military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, ministers called for North Korea to stop it,” the Blue House said, citing a meeting of South Korea’s top security officials.
The missiles were fired at dawn from an area around the northeastern city of Hamhung, South Korea’s JCS said.
Large solid-fuel rocket engines for North Korea’s ballistic missile program are most likely being produced at a factory complex in Hamhung, monitoring group 38 North said last year. Hamhung also has a testing site for those engines.
Kim Dong-yup, a former naval officer who teaches at Seoul’s Kyungnam University, said the weapons could be related to the completion of North Korea’s new rocket artillery system that required multiple launches of the same kind.
Japan’s ministry of defense said the projectiles did not pose an immediate security threat.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; additional reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Idrees Ali, Jan Wolfe and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Mari Saito in Tokyo; Editing by Kim Coghill, Joseph Radford and Sonya Hepinstall)