Apparently President Trump’s commitment to meet with Kim Jong Un was to be taking seriously, not literally.
South Korean officials said Thursday night at the White House that President Trump “said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.” The White House followed that up with a statement saying the president “will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined.”
So invitation accepted, right? Just awaiting the details, it seems.
Except … maybe not. Appearing at the daily White House briefing Friday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested the meeting wasn’t a done deal after all. She seemed to retroactively attach preconditions to the whole thing.
“The president will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete actions take place by North Korea,” Sanders said, specifically mentioning denuclearization.
Except that the original agreement, as outlined by the South Koreans, was only that Kim would halt nuclear and missile tests while talks were underway. Until Friday, there was no indication that it had to actually scale back its program before the meeting. They said Kim was “committed to denuclearization,” but they didn’t say he would denuclearize before the meeting as a precondition.
Consider this the latest piece of evidence that the arrangement of the first summit between a sitting U.S. president and the leader of North Korea is another example of Trump shooting first and his staff thinking later.
On Thursday night, it was pretty evident that this came out of nowhere. Trump hadn’t even been scheduled to meet with South Korean officials, but soon there was an agreement reached to talk with Kim. The White House didn’t immediately confirm the news, though, and diplomats were left scrambling to response to the unplanned announcement.
The news also seemed to contradict what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said earlier in the day. “In terms of direct talks with the United States — and you asked negotiations, and we’re a long ways from negotiations.” He added: “I don’t know yet, until we are able to meet ourselves face to face with representatives of North Korea, whether the conditions are right to even begin thinking about negotiations.”
Perhaps Tillerson’s view has eventually prevailed. But that’s not the tune the White House was singing Thursday night.