PENNSYLVANIA (AFP) – US President Donald Trump predicted “tremendous success” 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 last 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,” Mr 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 US 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,” Mr 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, Mr 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. Mr Trump reached out to the Asian leaders in phone calls Friday after his stunning decision to accept an invitation to meet Mr Kim before the end of May.
The turnabout – a huge surprise after months of intensifying brinksmanship over the North’s nuclear and missile programmes also caught Mr Trump’s top aides off guard.
Just hours before Mr Trump made his announcement 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 said Friday.
But in a series of tweets late Friday and Saturday, Mr Trump emphasised the positive.
“North Korea has not conducted a Missile Test since November 28, 2017 and has promised not to do so through our meetings. I believe they will honour that commitment!” he said.
Mr Trump praised a possible future agreement with the nuclear-armed North as “very good” for the international community as a whole.