By Steve Holland and Christine Kim
WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he planned to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month or in early June and hoped the discussions would ultimately lead to an end of the North’s nuclear weapons program.
“We’ll be meeting with them sometime in May or early June and I think there’ll be great respect paid by both parties and hopefully we’ll be able to make a deal on the de-nuking of North Korea,” Trump told reporters at the beginning of a Cabinet meeting.
“They’ve said so. We’ve said so,” Trump said. “Hopefully, it’ll be a relationship that’s much different than it’s been for many, many years.”
Trump’s comments came just a few hours before North Korea mentioned talks with the United States and South Korea for the first time, as the North’s state media said Kim Jong Un chaired a party meeting on Monday in which he assessed future talks with Washington and his upcoming summit with South Korea on April 27.
“(Kim Jong Un) set forth the strategic and tactical issues to be maintained by the Workers’ Party of Korea including the future policy of international relations and the orientation corresponding to them,” the North’s central news agency said on Tuesday.
Any meeting between Kim and Trump would come after the two Koreas hold their first summit in more than a decade later this month.
North Korea has told the United States it is prepared to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula when Kimmeets Trump, a U.S. official told Reuters on Sunday.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. and North Korean officials have held secret contacts recently in which Pyongyang directly confirmed its willingness to hold the unprecedented summit.
The communications, still at a preliminary stage, have involved State Department officials talking to North Korea, apparently through its United Nations mission, and intelligence officers from both sides using a separate back channel, the official said. Before that, Washington had relied mostly onSouth Korea’s assurances of Kim’s intentions.
Kim Jong Un as well as high ranking officials from the North have been engaging other countries in a flurry of diplomacy in recent weeks with the North Korean leader making a surprise visit to China last month, talking with President Xi Jinping.
It was Kim’s first known trip outside the North since he assumed power in late 2011.
A North Korean delegation led by Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho is in Russia this week after a visit to Turkmenistan, the North’s state media said separately on Tuesday.
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev held talks on Monday with Ri about the options for dialogue between Pyongyang and Seoul, TASS news agency reported on Monday. Ri is also scheduled to speak with his Russian counterpart on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Christine Kim; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Jonathan Oatis)