US President Donald Trump has said North Korea wants to hold a high-stakes meeting “as soon as possible” as he praised Kim Jong Un as “very open” and “very honourable”.
Mr Trump was addressing his upcoming plans to meet with the North Korean leader during his discussions at the White House with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Mr Trump’s praise for the North Korean dictator stands in stark contrast to his past comments in which he referred to Mr Kim as “Little Rocket Man”.
The Trump-Kim meeting is expected in May or June.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is meeting with Mr Kim on Friday to kick off a new round of high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with Pyongyang.
The US and North Korea have been negotiating a summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim to broker a deal on Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. Mr Trump, who has struck a decidedly optimistic tone on the situation in recent days, said on Tuesday that the US and North Korea were having “good discussions”.
“We have been told directly that they would like to have the meeting as soon as possible. We think that’s a great thing for the world,” Mr Trump said at the White House alongside Mr Macron. “Kim Jong Un, he really has been very open and I think very honourable from everything we’re seeing.”
Mr Trump cautioned that North Korea had not followed through on previous promises, but credited tough steps from his administration – including sanctions and organising pressure from international allies – for having forced Pyongyang to hold talks.
And he again suggested that he would “leave the table” if they negotiations were not productive or if North Korea was not operating in good faith.
“We’ll see where that all goes,” the president said. “Maybe it will be wonderful or maybe it won’t.”
Mr Trump’s comments came days after a flurry of signs from North Korea that the White House was anxious to promote as signs that its coercion campaign was working.
On Saturday, North Korea announced it will close its nuclear testing facility and suspend nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests – a move welcomed by Mr Trump as “big progress”.
However, the North stopped short of suggesting it will give up its nuclear weapons — as Mr Trump suggested in a tweet – or scale back its production of missiles and their related components.
Asked if the suspension of tests was a positive sign, defence secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday: “Right now, I think there (are) a lot of reasons for optimism that the negotiations will be fruitful and we’ll see.”