U.S. President Donald Trump predicted “tremendous success” on Saturday in upcoming groundbreaking talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, and suggested the reclusive state wants to “make peace” despite a years-long nuclear standoff.
The comments came after the American leader said he has received encouragement from the leaders of China and Japan, and assurance that North Korea had promised not to shoot missiles in the interim, as he moves toward the high stakes summit, announced suddenly this week.
“I think North Korea is going to go very well, I think we will have tremendous success… We have a lot of support,” Trump told reporters before boarding his Marine One helicopter to travel to a rally in Pennsylvania. “The promise is they wouldn’t be shooting off missiles in the meantime, and they’re looking to de-nuke. So that’d be great.”
At the rally, he told supporters that the United States had “shown great strength” when tensions were high with Pyongyang, but he went so far as to say the reclusive regime’s leaders “want to make peace.”
“I think it’s time,” Trump said.
He also boasted that his reducing the North Korean nuclear threat helped save the Winter Olympics that were held last month in South Korea. “It’s a little hard to sell tickets when you think you are going to be nuked,” the president added.
Earlier, Trump said China’s President Xi Jinping was appreciative of his decision to opt for diplomacy rather than “the ominous alternative,” while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was “very enthusiastic” about talks with North Korea.
Trump reached out to the Asian leaders in phone calls Friday after his stunning decision to accept an invitation to meet Kim before the end of May.
The turnabout—a huge surprise after months of intensifying brinksmanship over the North’s nuclear and missile programs—caught even Trump’s top aides off guard.
Just hours before Trump made his announcement on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said direct talks with North Korea were “a long way” off.
White House officials initially waffled on the president’s intentions. “We’re not going to have this meeting take place until we see concrete actions that match the words and the rhetoric of North Korea,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters on Friday.
But in a series of tweets late Friday and Saturday, a seemingly ebullient Trump emphasized the positive. “North Korea has not conducted a Missile Test since Nov. 28, 2017 and has promised not to do so through our meetings. I believe they will honor that commitment!” he said.
Trump praised a possible future agreement with the nuclear-armed North as “very good” for the international community as a whole. He also tweeted that Xi “appreciates that the U.S. is working to solve the problem diplomatically rather than going with the ominous alternative. China continues to be helpful!”
A White House readout of the conversation said the two leaders committed to keeping the pressure on North Korea until it takes “tangible steps toward complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.”
North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Pak Song-Il credited the turnabout to Kim’s “broadminded and resolute” decision to contribute to peace and security in the Korean Peninsula.
“The United States should know and understand our position and should further contribute to the peace and security building in the Korean Peninsula with [a] sincere position and serious attitude,” he wrote in an email to The Washington Post.
Not everyone was so sanguine about the prospects of a breakthrough, however, and some Democrats shuddered at the thought of such sensitive—and potentially explosive—negotiations in the hands of an impulsive, inexperienced president. “If you want to talk to Kim Jong-Un about his nuclear weapons you need experienced diplomats,” Hillary Clinton, Trump’s rival in the 2016 presidential elections, told Dutch tabloid Algemeen Dagblad.
The former diplomatic chief said the State Department was “being eroded,” and experienced diplomats on the North Korean issue were in short supply because many have left. “You cannot have diplomacy without diplomats,” she said, adding that “the danger is not being recognized by the Trump government.”
Clinton’s words echo those of veteran diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who warned that negotiating with North Korea was not “reality television.”
“It’s a real opportunity…. I worry about the president’s unpreparedness and lack of discipline. But I commend him for his very bold move in accepting the invitation,” Richardson told AFP on Friday.