WASHINGTON — United States President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had high hopes of “doing something very meaningful” to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions at a summit in Singapore next month, after Pyongyang smoothed the way for talks by freeing three American prisoners.
The date and location of the first-ever meeting of a sitting US president and a North Korean leader were announced by Trump on Twitter.
“The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” Trump wrote.
He made the announcement after a US government aircraft touched down at Joint Base Andrews near Washington carrying the Americans who were released by North Korea in a move to clear the way for the bilateral summit.
The ex-prisoners are Korean-American missionary Kim Dong-chul, who was sentenced in 2016 to 10 years’ hard labor; Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim, who taught for a month at a foreign-funded university before he was arrested in 2017; and Kim Hak-song, who also taught there and was detained last year.
North Korean state media said they were arrested for subversion or ‘hostile acts’ against Pyongyang.
Trump faces a difficult task persuading Kim to abandon nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests that heightened US-North Korean tensions throughout 2017.
The two men exchanged fiery rhetoric last year over North Korea’s attempts to build a nuclear weapon that could reach the United States.
But tensions have since eased, starting around the time of the North’s participation in the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.
Trump greeted the freed Americans in the early morning hours. He said on their arrival that he believed Kim, who has led North Korea for seven years and is believed to be in his mid-30s, wanted to bring his country ‘into the real world.’
“I think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful,” Trump said. “My proudest achievement will be – this is part of it – when we denuclearize that entire peninsula.”
New US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has visited Pyongyang twice in recent weeks – once as head of the CIA – but there has been no sign he cleared up the central question of whether North Korea will be willing to bargain away nuclear weapons that its rulers have long seen as crucial to their survival.
Trump is embarking on the meeting with Kim after announcing on Tuesday the United States was pulling out of a 2015 accord imposing international oversight of Iran’s nuclear program.
The move raised questions over whether North Korea might now be less inclined to negotiate its own nuclear deal with Washington.
Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke by telephone on Wednesday. The White House said they “affirmed” the shared goal of North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons program.
Japan worries it could be the target of any first use of nuclear weapons by Pyongyang.
White House officials, without providing specifics, said on Thursday the meeting could be scuttled if North Korea did anything unacceptable over the next month.
“We’re not under any illusions about who these people are,” National Security Council official Victoria Coates told reporters. “We know who we’re dealing with here. But we got up front our people home rather than that having been an afterthought.”Follow @gorkhapost
Russian rocket fails in the mid air, crew lands safely
COSMODROME—Booster rocket carrying a Soyuz spacecraft with a Russian and US astronaut on board headed for the International Space Station failed in mid-air on Thursday, forcing the crew to make an emergency landing.
U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin landed safely without any harm.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, quoted by Interfax, said the problem occurred when the first and second stages of the booster rocket were in the process of separating.
The rocket was launched from the Soviet-era cosmodrome in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. A Reuters reporter who observed the launch from around 1 km away said that it had gone smoothly in its initial stage.
“Search and rescue teams are in the air and heading towards the expected touchdown location for the Soyuz spacecraft returning to Earth carrying two crew members,” NASA said in a statement.