SEOUL – U.S. President Donald Trump says he is open to another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, even as Pyongyang signals it is uninterested in resuming stalled nuclear talks.
Trump made the comments Tuesday in an interview with Gray Television’s Greta Van Susteren.
“I understand they want to meet and we would certainly do that,” Trump said, later adding: “I would do it if I thought it was going to be helpful.”
When Van Susteren, also a VOA contributor, asked if Trump thought such a meeting would be helpful, Trump replied: “Probably. I have a very good relationship with him, [so it] probably would be.”
North Korea has twice in the past week said it is not interested in more talks with the U.S., insisting another summit would only benefit Trump’s domestic political situation.
“Explicitly speaking once again, we have no intention to sit face to face with the U.S.,” said Kwon Jong Gun, a North Korean foreign ministry official, in an article in the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) Tuesday.
On Saturday, senior North Korean diplomat Choe Son Hui said “we do not feel any need to sit face to face with the U.S., as it does not consider the DPRK-U.S. dialogue as nothing more than a tool for grappling its political crisis.”
Earlier this month, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he would like to see Trump and Kim hold another meeting before the U.S. presidential election in November.
The issue is likely to come up Wednesday when U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun meets in Seoul with South Korean leaders on how to advance the stalled nuclear talks.
Speaking Wednesday after meeting his South Korean counterpart, Lee Do-hoon, Biegun downplayed North Korea’s recent remarks.
“I do not take my direction from Vice Minister Choi Son Hui, nor from Ambassador John Bolton,” the former White House National Security Advisor, who recently wrote a book highly critical of Trump’s outreach to North Korea, Biegun said.
Biegun last month said an in-person summit before the election is unlikely, in part because of coronavirus concerns. On Wednesday, he did not publicly address the chances of another summit.
Some analysts have questioned whether Trump has other priorities; with just four months to go until the election, Trump is badly trailing Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in the polls. North Korea is not seen as a major issue in the U.S. election.
However, if Trump could revive the North Korea talks, it could help highlight what White House officials had once heralded as a signature Trump foreign policy achievement.
Trump and Kim met for the first time in June 2018 in Singapore, where they signed a short statement vowing to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Though the statement was less substantive than some past U.S.-North Korea agreements, many analysts and officials hoped that Trump and Kim’s unique “top-down” approach to the talks would pave the way for later progress in working-level negotiations.
Hopes were high in February 2019, when Trump and Kim met for a second time in Hanoi, Vietnam. But that summit ended abruptly after the two men failed to agree on how to pair sanctions relief with steps to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program.
In June 2019, Trump and Kim met briefly at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. In October, the two sides also engaged in working-level talks that quickly broke down. North Korea has since boycotted the discussions.
North Korea is angry at the U.S. refusal to relax sanctions and provide security guarantees as part of a step-by-step denuclearization process. The Trump administration wants Pyongyang to first agree to give up its entire nuclear weapons program.
Trump has repeatedly insisted his relationship with Kim remains strong and has portrayed his outreach to Kim as a success, even as North Korea resumed frequent short-range missile tests and other provocations.
“Just so you understand, [it’s been] almost four years we’re not in a war. Almost anybody else would have been in a war. I get along, we talk, and let’s see what happens. But we’ve done a great job and haven’t been given the credit we deserve,” Trump told Van Susteren.
Since Trump and Kim began talking, North Korea has refrained from nuclear and long-range missile tests but continues developing nuclear weapons. According to some estimates, North Korea now has enough material for about 40 nuclear bombs.
Asked about North Korea’s continued nuclear weapons activity, Trump replied:
“Well, we’ll have to see. There’s no delivery, et cetera, et cetera, as you know. Not yet. And at some point there might be. And we’ll have to have very serious discussions and thought about that, because there could be some time when something’s going to happen.”
The complete interview will air Sunday on Gray TV’s Full Court Press program, but VOA obtained a transcript of Trump’s North Korea comments ahead of time.