Kim's China trip paves way for Trump summit
Donald Trump said he was looking forward to meeting Kim Jong-un after the North Korean leader used a surprise trip to Beijing to affirm his commitment to discussing his nuclear weapons programme.
Officials have confirmed Mr Kim travelled abroad for the first time since becoming leader for talks with President Xi Jinping of China this week, when he reiterated his willingness to meet Mr Trump and discuss denuclearisation.
Mr Trump tweeted that a winding down of tensions on the Korean peninsula had started ahead of a formal summit, but stood firm on sanctions against the Kim regime.
He said: "For years and through many administrations, everyone said that peace and the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula was not even a small possibility. Now there is a good chance that Kim Jong-un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting!"
He added: "Received message last night from Xi Jinping of China that his meeting with Kim Jong-un went very well and Kim looks forward to his meeting with me. In the meantime, and unfortunately, maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all cost!"
The North Korean leader's trip lasted from Sunday to Wednesday, the official Xinhua news agency reported. Mr Kim and wife Ri Sol-ju were met with honour guards and a banquet hosted by Mr Xi, according to state media. The two held talks at the Great Hall of the People, and the North Korean leader told Mr Xi his nuclear- armed regime was "committed to denuclearisation".
"The issue of denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realisation of peace," Mr Kim said during his visit.
He also confirmed he was willing to hold a summit with the US, the first official comment on the proposed talks.
"The DPRK is willing to have dialogue with the United States and hold a summit of the two countries," Xinhua quoted Mr Kim as saying. South Korea announced earlier this month that Mr Kim had offered to meet Mr Trump but Pyongyang had not officially confirmed or denied the proposed summit.
China briefed Mr Trump about the visit, and the communication included a personal message from Mr Xi to the US president, the White House said in a statement.
"The United States remains in close contact with our allies South Korea and Japan. We see this development as further evidence that our campaign of maximum pressure is creating the appropriate atmosphere for dialogue with North Korea," the statement said.
Mr Xi had also accepted an invitation from Mr Kim to visit North Korea, South Korea's news agency Yonhap said.
Mr Kim is due to hold separate summits with China's rivals, South Korea and the United States, and analysts said the visit to Beijing was believed to be preparation for those.
Beijing has traditionally been the closest ally of secretive and isolated North Korea, but ties have been frayed by North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and China's backing of tough UN sanctions in response.
Analysts had earlier suggested Beijing had been sidelined by Pyongyang's approaches to Seoul and Washington, but Mr Kim's visit means China has reclaimed its leading role on the world stage.
Deng Yuwen, an independent Chinese international relations scholar, said North Korea needed to turn to its old ally ahead of the US summit, as Mr Kim will be sceptical that Mr Trump will guarantee the security of his regime.
"North Korea needs the big brother to protect it at a crucial moment," said Mr Deng.
Both leaders stressed the strength of their countries' ties.
"Both Comrade Chairman and I have personally experienced and witnessed the development of China-DPRK relationship," Mr Xi said.
"This is a strategic choice and the only right choice both sides have made based on history and reality. This should not and will not change because of any single event at a particular time," Mr Xi said.
Mr Kim added: "There is no question my first foreign visit is to the Chinese capital," Pyongyang's official news agency KCNA reported.
Mr Kim is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April before a proposed Trump summit in May. (© Daily Telegraph London)