President Donald Trump said the United States is “willing to go either way” in response to North Korea's development of nuclear-tipped missiles, adding “hopefully it’s going to be the proper way."
The president’s comments came after South Korea said Tuesday the North is willing to start talks with the United States about giving up its nuclear weapons.
Trump's latest remarks on North Korea stand in stark contrast to his previous threat to respond with "fire and fury" to Pyongyang's development of weapons of mass destruction.
“We cannot let that situation fester,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office where he was hosting Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.
“It would be a great thing for the world” if the current dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang defuses tensions on the Korean peninsula, Trump said. He also cautioned that the inter-Korean talks “may carry over, it may not,” while noting that “it’s a very tenuous situation.”
A senior U.S. official said the Trump administration is open-minded but skeptical about Pyongyang’s intentions, noting North Korea has a 27-year track record of breaking “every agreement that they’ve ever made with the United States and the international community.”
North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, "shows no interest in walking away from his nuclear or ballistic missile programs," Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. "Additional missile launches are a near certainty, and further nuclear tests are possible.”
Trump on Tuesday again blamed previous U.S. administrations of both parties for allowing North Korea to develop weapons of mass destruction. Asked if he would be willing to meet Kim Jong Un, Trump replied “We’ll see what happens.”
At a subsequent joint news conference with Prime Minister Lofven, Trump said a possible breakthrough on the Korean peninsula results from U.S. and U.N. sanctions that “have been very, very strong and biting.” He also said “China has been a big help. I think that’s been a factor,” but that Beijing could do more to pressure Pyongyang.
South Korea's top security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters Tuesday that Pyongyang signaled there was no need to keep its nuclear program if military threats against the country are eliminated. Chung added North Korea was receptive to discussing denuclearization and normalizing relations with the U.S.
Chung was part of a South Korean delegation that just returned from a two-day visit to North Korea, where the group held an unprecedented meeting with Kim Jong Un. Representatives of South Korean President Moon Jae-in are to visit Washington this week to brief U.S. officials about the inter-Korean talks.