US President Donald Trump has said the time and place has been set for his landmark meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un – but kept the world guessing about when and where.
The White House did, however, announce the details of a separate meeting later this month between Mr Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
That was announced as the US administration pushed back on a report that Mr Trump is considering the withdrawal of US forces from the allied nation.
Mr Trump and Mr Moon will meet at the White House on May 22 to “continue their close co-ordination on developments regarding the Korean Peninsula” following last week’s meeting between Mr Moon and Mr Kim.
Earlier this week, Mr Trump expressed a preference for holding the “big event” with Mr Kim in the demilitarised zone or DMZ between the two Koreas, where Mr Moon and Mr Kim met.
He also said Singapore was in contention to host what will be the first summit between a US and North Korean leader.
“We now have a date and we have a location. We’ll be announcing it soon,” Mr Trump told reporters on Friday from the White House South Lawn before departing for Dallas. He has previously said the summit was planned for May or early June.
A meeting with Mr Kim seemed an outlandish possibility just a few months ago when the two leaders were trading threats and insults over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons.
But momentum for diplomacy has built this year as the rival Koreas have patched up ties.
In March, Mr Trump unexpectedly accepted an offer of talks from Mr Kim after the North Korean dictator agreed to suspend nuclear and ballistic missile tests and discuss “denuclearisation”.
According to South Korea, Mr Kim has said he would be willing to give up his nuclear missiles if the United States commits to a formal end to the Korean War and pledges not to attack the North.
But his exact demands for relinquishing weapons that his nation spent decades building remain unclear.
Mr Trump said that withdrawing US forces from South Korea is “not on the table”.
Some 28,500 US forces are based in the allied nation, a military presence that has been preserved to deter North Korea since the war ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.
“Now I have to tell you, at some point into the future, I would like to save the money,” Mr Trump said later as he prepared to board Air Force One. “You know we have 32,000 troops there but I think a lot of great things will happen but troops are not on the table. Absolutely.”
The New York Times reported that Mr Trump has asked the Pentagon to prepare options for drawing down American troops.
It cited unnamed officials as saying that was not intended to be a bargaining chip with Mr Kim, but did reflect that a prospective peace treaty between the Koreas could diminish the need for US forces in South Korea.
At the inter-Korean summit last Friday, held on the southern side of the DMZ, Mr Moon and Mr Kim pledged to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons and seek a formal end this year to the Korean conflict where the opposing sides remain technically at war more than six decades after fighting halted with an armistice.
National security adviser John Bolton, who met his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong in Washington on Friday, called the Times report “utter nonsense”.
During his presidential campaign, Mr Trump complained that South Korea does not do enough to financially support the American military commitment.
In March, Washington and Seoul began negotiations on how much South Korea should offset the costs of the deployment in the coming years.
Before Mr Trump meets Mr Kim, Washington is looking for North Korea to address another persistent source of tension between the adversaries: The detention of three Korean-Americans accused of anti-state activities in the North.
Mr Trump hinted that the release of Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim was in the offing, but again was sparing on the details.
“We’re having very substantive talks with North Korea and a lot of things have already happened with respect to the hostages, and I think you’re going to see very good things. As I said yesterday, stay tuned,” Mr Trump said, referring to an earlier tweet on the issue.