WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday said he believed North Korea was “sincere” in announcing its willingness to hold denuclearization talks with the U.S., but also cautioned that the announcement could amount to “false hope.”
On Tuesday, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un in a rare meeting with South Korean officials said North Korea would be willing to disarm its nuclear arsenal if military threats against the country were dropped, according to a statement released by the office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
“The North Korean side clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize,” the statement said. “It made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed.”
North Korea, according to President Moon, “expressed its willingness to hold a heartfelt dialogue with the United States on the issues of denuclearization and normalizing relations with the United States,” and would suspend nuclear and ballistic missile tests as talks occurred.
Trump, when asked about the developments from the Korean summit, said the “statements coming out of South Korea and North Korea have been very positive.”
“We have come, certainly, a long way, at least rhetorically, with North Korea,” Trump told reporters before heading to a closed-door meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. “It would be a great thing for the world. It would be a great thing for North Korea. It would be a great thing for the Peninsula.”
Earlier in the day, Trump struck a more cautious tone on Twitter, saying “possible progress being made in talks with North Korea. For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned. The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”
Trump often has derided North Korea’s Kim Jong Un as unstable, calling him “rocket man” and taunting him with a tweet describing Trump’s nuclear detonation button as “much bigger & more powerful” than Kim’s.
Trump told reporters Tuesday he believed North Korea’s change in stance was due in part to sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
“I think that they are sincere, but I think they’re sincere also because the sanctions and what we’re doing with respect to North Korea,” Trump said in a joint news conference with Löfven in the East Room of the White House.
Meanwhile, other administration officials expressed skepticism about North Korea’s commitment to denuclearization.
“I’m quite skeptical about all of this,” Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. “Maybe this is a breakthrough. I seriously doubt it, but hope springs eternal.”
Vice President Mike Pence, in a statement issued by his office, said: “All options are on the table and our posture toward the regime will not change until we see credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearization.”
Also during the news conference with Löfven, a Swedish reporter asked Trump about the threat of Russia interference in the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. Trump said he wasn’t worried because “we’ll counteract whatever they do.”
“We’ll counteract it very strongly,” Trump said. “And we are having strong backup systems.”