Saturday 18 August 2018

Everything you need to know about Donald Trump's promised meeting with Kim Jong Un

  • 'Milestone' meeting with Kim Jong Un is being planned - Trump on Twitter
  • Potentially dramatic breakthrough in nuclear crisis
  • Asian stock markets rose on the news
Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

Christine Kim and Steve Holland

U.S. President Donald Trump said he was prepared to meet North Korea's Kim Jong Un in what would be the first face-to-face encounter between the two countries' leaders and potentially mark a major breakthrough in nuclear tensions with Pyongyang.

The announcement came as a surprise to many - including White House staff.

So, what can we expect?

When will the meeting happen?

"A meeting is being planned," Trump posted on Twitter after speaking to South Korea's National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong, setting up what would be his biggest foreign policy gamble since taking office in January 2017.

Chung said Trump had agreed to meet by May in response to Kim's invitation.

A senior U.S. official said later it could happen "in a matter of a couple of months, with the exact timing and place still to be determined".

What will be the aim of the summit?

South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who led the pursuit of detente with North Korea during his country's hosting of the Winter Olympics last month, said the summit would set a course for denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula, according to a presidential spokesman. Trump had agreed to meet Kim without any preconditions, another South Korean official said.

Kim has "committed to denuclearisation" and to suspending nuclear and missile tests, South Korea's National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong told reporters at the White House on Thursday after briefing Trump on a meeting South Korean officials held with Kim earlier this week.

Trump had previously said he was willing to meet Kim under the right circumstances but had indicated the time was not right for such talks. He mocked U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October for "wasting his time" trying to talk to North Korea.

Tillerson said earlier on Thursday during a visit to Africa that, although "talks about talks" might be possible with Pyongyang, denuclearisation negotiations were likely a long way off.

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A woman walks by a huge screen showing Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un (Koji Sasahara/AP)

How did the markets react to the announcement of the meeting?

Asian stock markets rose on the news, with Japan's Nikkei up 0.5 percent and South Korean stocks up more than 1 percent. The dollar also rose against the safe-haven Japanese yen.

"It's good news, no doubt," said Hong Chun-Uk, chief economist at Kiwoom Securities in Seoul. "But this will likely prove to be only a short-lived factor unless more and stronger actions follow."

South Koreans responded positively to the news, with online comments congratulating Moon for laying the groundwork for the Trump-Kim talks. Some even suggested Moon should receive the Nobel Peace prize, although scepticism over previous failed talks remained.

What have relations been like up to now?

A meeting between Kim and Trump, who have exchanged insults that had raised fear of war, would be a major turnaround after a year in which North Korea has carried out a battery of tests aimed at developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

Trump's aides have been wary of North Korea's diplomatic overtures because of its history of reneging on international commitments and the failure of efforts on disarmament by previous U.S. administrations.

Trump has derided the North Korean leader as a "maniac", referred to him as "little rocket man", and threatened in a speech to the United Nations last year to "totally destroy" Kim's country of 26 million people if it attacked the United States or one of its allies.

Kim responded by calling the U.S. president a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard".

Tensions over North Korea rose to their highest in years in 2017 and the Trump administration warned that all options were on the table, including military ones, in dealing with Pyongyang, which has pursued its weapons programmes in defiance of ever tougher U.N. sanctions.

So, what next?

In what would be a key North Korean concession, Chung said Kim understood that "routine" joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States must continue.

Pyongyang had previously demanded that such joint drills be suspended in order for any U.S. talks to go forward.

Signs of a thaw emerged this year, with North and South Korea resuming talks and North Korea attending the Winter Olympics. During the Pyongyang talks this week, the two Koreas agreed on a summit in late April, their first since 2007.

Japan, however, remained cautious.

"Japan and the United States will not waver in its firm stance that they will continue to put maximum pressure until North Korea takes concrete action towards the complete, verifiable and irreversible end to nuclear missile development," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo.

South Korea's Moon has said sanctions should not be eased for the sake of talks and nothing less than denuclearisation of North Korea should be the final goal for talks.

China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, called on the United States and North Korea to hold talks as soon as possible, warning at a news briefing in Beijing on Thursday that things "will not be smooth sailing".

Reuters

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