WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Thursday that North Korea's Kim Jong Un has made nuclear weapons concessions before even sitting down for talks, while the U.S. hasn't given up anything.
Trump's assertions came before Friday's summit between North Korea and South Korea that's expected to pave the way for a historic meeting between Trump and Kim in May or June.
Trump told "Fox & Friends" that his tough approach toward the North, and now his willingness to engage with Kim, had reduced the risk of nuclear war. He contended that North Korea has "given up denuclearization, testing, research" and that "we're going to close different sites."
North Korea recently announced it will shutter its nuclear test site and suspend nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, and Kim has indicated he's ready to discuss denuclearization. That marks a dramatic shift from the high tensions of last year, when in defiance of world opinion and despite intensified economic sanctions, North Korea rapidly conducted weapons tests.
"I'm saying to myself 'wait a minute, all of these things he's given up and we haven't even really that much asked them,'" Trump said. He added: "We would have asked them, but they gave it up before I even asked."
But doubts linger over Kim's readiness to relinquish nuclear weapons his nation already has, and what he'd want in return. North Korea is already at the brink of being able to threaten the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile, and views that capability as a safeguard against American aggression and a defense against regime change.
Trump, who often accuses his predecessors of failing to address the North Korean threat, has argued that the only concession he has made was his surprise decision last month to accept Kim's invitation for a meeting — the first ever between the leaders of the United States and North Korea during six decades of hostility. "I never gave up anything," Trump repeated.
Critics say Kim may see the summit as a way to burnish his international standing and legitimize North Korea's declared status as a nuclear power.
Trump acknowledged the rhetoric that both he and Kim deployed over the last year and the schoolyard taunts of nuclear "buttons" was "very, very nasty" and heightened fears of nuclear war. "This is a much more dangerous ballgame now, but I will tell you it's going very well."
He said "the nuclear war would have happened if you have weak people."
Trump revealed more information about outgoing CIA Director Mike Pompeo's secret trip to North Korea this month, saying Pompeo wasn't supposed to meet with Kim, but that they ended up talking for more than an hour. Later Thursday, the White House released photos of Pompeo and Kim shaking hands. Pompeo, who won Senate confirmation Thursday to become secretary of state, was the most senior U.S. official to meet a North Korean leader since 2000.
"They had a great meeting," Trump said, without revealing what they discussed.
For now, the diplomatic initiative lies in the hands of the rival Koreas.
Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a key U.S. ally, were to meet Friday in the heavily militarized frontier between the Koreas. Moon will be looking to make some headway on the nuclear issue in advance of the Trump-Kim summit.
They're also expected to discuss ways to both improve relations and settle the 1950-53 Korean War, which was halted with an armistice, not a peace treaty.