WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said the North Korean nuclear crisis is far from conclusion on Sunday, striking a cautious note a day after the North’s pledge to end its nuclear tests raised hopes before planned summits with South Korea and the United States.
“We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t – only time will tell,” Trump said on Twitter.
North Korea said on Saturday it was suspending nuclear and missile tests and scrapping its nuclear test site, and instead pursuing economic growth and peace.
World leaders welcomed the announcement, which came before the first North Korea-South Korea summit in more than a decade on Friday.
In a tweet minutes before sounding a more cautious tone, Trump interpreted the North’s statement as a pledge to denuclearize: “Wow, we haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!”
However, Kim’s announcement did not include a commitment to scrap existing nuclear weapons and missiles, and there are doubts he would ever give up the nuclear arsenal his country has been developing for decades.
Kim said North Korea no longer needed to test nuclear bombs or intercontinental ballistic missiles now that his country had the weapons, and he would gear all efforts toward economic development.
Some have expressed doubts about the North’s intentions and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will be under intense international scrutiny when he meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday.
“North Korea has a long history of raising the issue of denuclearization and has committed to freeze its nuclear weapons programs in the past. We all remember how those pledges and commitments went down over past decades,” said Nam Sung-wook, a professor of North Korean Studies at Korea University in Seoul.
“Although the North’s announcement is quite dramatic, it’s natural for the world to be extra sensitive to every word spoken by Kim.”
In Washington, Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.S. government viewed Kim’s pledge with skepticism.
“This is a great public relations effort by Kim Jong Un,” Corker said on CNN. “I think everyone within the administration and Congress approaches this with skepticism and caution.”
Kim is expected to meet Trump in late May or early June, the first meeting between sitting leaders of the two countries. CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Trump’s nominee to become the next secretary of state, secretly visited North Korea and met with Kim to discuss the summit three weeks ago.
Moon, who welcomed Kim’s announcement as a “major” step toward denuclearization, is making Friday’s summit his sole focus this week, staying in the presidential Blue House to prepare with no outside engagements, a Blue House official said on Sunday.
South Korea’s presidential security service met officials from the military as well as the U.N. Command on Saturday to discuss security at the border truce village of Panmunjom, where the inter-Korean summit will take place, the official said.
For the past few weeks, South Korea has been renovating Peace House, on its side of Panmunjom, to prepare for the summit with Kim, who will be the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the 1950-1953 Korean War.
On Monday, the two Koreas will hold another round of working-level talks at the Tongil Pavilion on the North Korean side of Panmunjom to discuss protocol, security and media coverage of the summit.
Moon now has a direct phone link with Kim on his office desk, instead of having to communicate through a hotline at the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, which had been the main channel between the two sides over the Winter Olympics in February.
The two leaders are expected to talk over the newly installed phone for the first time this week, before the summit, South Korea said on Friday. (GRAPHIC: tmsnrt.rs/2CtuIJS)
A senior U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Susan Thornton, called North Korea’s latest announcement “a very positive step” as she started a three-day visit to Seoul on Sunday, which will include meetings with South Korea’s foreign minister as well as its top nuclear negotiator.
“We are going to be doing a lot of close coordination with South Korea, allies and partners this week,” the Yonhap news agency quoted her as saying.
South Korea said the North’s testing pledge signified “meaningful” progress that would create good conditions for successful summits with Seoul and Washington.
U.S. officials say North Korea had in the past repeatedly reneged on denuclearization agreements, the latest in 2012 when the North launched a long-range rocket after agreeing to a moratorium on missile testing.
Cheong Seong-chang, senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute think-tank, said a firm commitment to denuclearize could not be expected before negotiations with the United States began.
“Kim cannot give up everything at once. What is clear is that he is showing his earnest willingness to pave the way for smooth negotiations,” Cheong said.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Heekyong Yang in Seoul; Additional reporting by Haejin Choi in Seoul; Editing by Stephen Coates and Lisa Shumaker