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Trump Accepts Kim Jong-un’s Invitation to Meet

Mr. Chung noted that Mr. Kim also said that he understood that joint military exercises with the United States and South Korea would go ahead as scheduled after the end of the Paralympic Games this month.

For Mr. Trump, a meeting with Mr. Kim, a leader he has threatened with “fire and fury” and derided as “Little Rocket Man,” is a breathtaking gamble. No sitting American president has ever met a North Korean leader, and Mr. Trump himself has repeatedly vowed that he would not commit the error of his predecessors by being drawn into a protracted negotiation with the North, in which the United States makes concessions but allows North Korea to keep elements of its nuclear program.

Meeting Mr. Kim now, rather than at the end of a negotiation when the United States would presumably have extracted concessions from North Korea, is an enormous gesture by the president. But Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim share a penchant for bold, dramatic moves, and their personal participation in a negotiation could take it in unexpected directions.

Mr. Chung’s announcement came at the end of another day of high drama at the White House, in which the president defied his own party by announcing sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and sought to ignore a mushrooming scandal over a pornographic film actress who claims to have had an affair with him.


Why Nuclear Deals With North Korea Don’t Stick

Several times over the years, negotiations between the United States and North Korea have appeared successful. Each time, the agreement fell apart.

Photo by The Blue House, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. Watch in Times Video »

White House officials had expected to deliberate for several days over how to respond to North Korea’s proposal for direct talks between the countries, which South Koreans officials had conveyed by telephone this week. But Mr. Kim’s offer of a leader-to-leader meeting radically accelerated the administration’s plans.

Mr. Trump himself teased the news, popping into the White House briefing room shortly after 5 p.m. to tell reporters gathered there that South Korea would make a major announcement at 7 p.m.

This week, Mr. Chung, President Moon Jae-in’s national security adviser, and his director of National Intelligence Service, Suh Hoon, had made a two-day trip to North Korea, where they became the first South Korean officials to meet Mr. Kim.

Mr. Kim made promises to the South Korean envoys that Seoul hoped would meet conditions set by the United States for starting a dialogue with the North. Mr. Trump has said he could start talks with North Korea “only under the right conditions.”

The Trump administration has repeatedly said it would start talks with the North only when it first agreed to discuss denuclearization. American officials have also demanded that North Korea take some actions to show its sincerity.

Embarking on a high-level negotiation will pose a stiff challenge to the administration, which has built its North Korea policy around imposing crippling economic sanctions, backed by the threat of military action. People briefed by the administration said it had done little planning for how a negotiation with the North would unfold.

The State Department’s chief North Korea negotiator, Joseph Yun, recently announced his departure from the Foreign Service. The White House also scotched a plan to nominate another experienced negotiator, Victor Cha, as ambassador to Seoul.

North Korea, by contrast, appears to have planned its diplomatic overture methodically, starting with Mr. Kim’s conciliatory message toward the South in his New Year’s Day address, and continuing through the North’s charm offensive during the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The South Korean envoys visited the White House on Thursday to brief Mr. Trump and his staff on their meeting with Mr. Kim. They have said they were also carrying additional messages from North Korea that they would deliver to Washington, though an American official said that the envoys did not deliver a letter from Mr. Kim.

Their trips to Pyongyang and Washington were part of South Korea’s efforts to help persuade North Korea and the United States to ease their standoff and start a dialogue. At the same time, South Korea has been pressing ahead with its own efforts to improve ties with North Korea. The two Koreas have agreed to hold a summit meeting between Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim in late April.

Since taking power last May, Mr. Moon, the South Korean leader, has repeatedly called for a dialogue with North Korea, even as Mr. Trump has escalated pressure on the North with increasingly harsh sanctions, more vigorous military maneuvers and a string of hostile tweets.

Mr. Kim rattled the region last year with a series of nuclear and long-range missile tests. Then he suddenly responded to Mr. Moon’s overtures for dialogue, in which he proposed talks with South Korea, saying he was willing to send athletes to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

North Korea sent hundreds of athletes, cheerleaders and singers to the Games last month. The two Koreas have also exchanged high-level envoys in recent weeks, including Mr. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, who met Mr. Moon in Seoul last month.

Analysts expressed skepticism about Mr. Trump’s decision to meet Mr. Kim, saying there was no indication that North Korea had given up its determination to be nuclear weapons state.

“There is every reason to believe that North Korea is attempting to blunt sanctions and secure de facto legitimacy for its nuclear weapons program with this gesture,” said Michael J. Green, a former Asia adviser to President George W. Bush, speaking by telephone from Tokyo, where he was visiting.

“There is no indication that North Korea is prepared to give up nuclear weapons,” he added, “and there are multiple risks for the president ranging from the alarm this will cause in Japan, where they are very worried, to the danger that the meeting ends up with a reduction of sanctions and a reduction of military exercises in exchange for an illusory pledge that North Korea will violate just as they’ve violated every agreement for 25 years.”

Evan S. Medeiros, an Asia adviser to President Barack Obama, said that any direct talks elevate Mr. Kim and legitimize him. “We got nothing for it. And Kim will never give up his nukes,” Mr. Medeiros said. “Kim played Moon and is now playing Trump.”

Earlier, administration officials had spoken in scathing terms about North Korea’s offer of direct talks. They noted that North Korea said nothing about halting the production of nuclear bombs or missiles during negotiations — which meant the North could build its arsenal while stringing out the talks.

It was clear that the only thing that changed was Mr. Kim’s invitation to meet Mr. Trump himself. The president’s deal-making skills, one of his aides said on Thursday, could produce a different outcome than previous rounds of diplomacy, which have always ended in failure and disappointment.

The highest-level American official to meet with North Koreans was Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who visited Pyongyang in 2000, near the end of the Clinton administration. Dr. Albright had planned to arrange a visit by President Bill Clinton.

But it fell apart when Kim Jong-il, the father of the current leader, would not agree to a missile deal in advance; he wanted to negotiate it face-to-face with the president. Mr. Clinton decided not to take the risk, skipped take the trip, and used his last weeks in office to make a race for Middle East peace instead.

Correction: March 8, 2018

An earlier version of this article misstated the country with which the United States will take part in joint military exercises. It is South Korea, not North Korea.

Source: NYT > World

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