SURPRISE TALKS WITH NKOREA
Washington (AFP) - The United States vowed Friday there would be no let-up of pressure on North Korea until it takes concrete steps to end its nuclear program after Donald Trump agreed to meet Kim Jong Un in a stunning diplomatic gamble.
A day after the bombshell announcement that the US and North Korean leaders would meet before the end of May, Trump's Vice President Mike Pence said Washington's efforts to isolate Kim had been vindicated.
While there was no reaction from Kim's regime, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said news of the summit -- announced by his national security advisor on a visit to Washington -- was "like a miracle".
Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the two leaders to begin talks as "soon as possible" and praised Trump's "positive aspiration" during a phone call with his US counterpart, according to state media.
China has long been North Korea's most important ally but has been on board with the program of sanctions agreed at the UN.
The announcement triggered a rise in global stock markets while world leaders voiced hope that the summit would deflate tensions that had been building dramatically in recent months.
While some observers questioned the US president's wisdom in granting Kim a long-standing wish for a summit after only agreeing a temporary halt to its nuclear tests, others said his gamble could be a game changer.
Trump has previously ridiculed Kim as "Little Rocket Man", slapping wideranging bilateral sanctions on the Pyongyang regime and also leading a drive for international sanctions through the UN.
"North Korea's desire to meet to discuss denuclearization -- while suspending all ballistic missile and nuclear testing -- is evidence that President Trump's strategy to isolate the Kim regime is working," Pence said in a statement.
The North Koreans "are coming to the table despite the United States making zero concessions and, in close coordination with our allies, we have consistently increased the pressure on the Kim regime.
"Our resolve is undeterred and our policy remains the same: all sanctions remain in place and the maximum pressure campaign will continue until North Korea takes concrete, permanent, and verifiable steps to end their nuclear program."
Standing in front of the White House on Thursday night, Moon's National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong announced the first ever meeting between a US president and a North Korean leader would take place by May.
Chung had recently returned from Pyongyang, where he met Kim who, he said, "expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible."
- Sanctions remain -
In a notably restrained tweet, Trump hailed "great progress" in the push to persuade Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons program, adding that "sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the world leaders to hail the announcement as a "glimmer of hope," saying North Korea's nuclear drive "has been a source of great concern for all of us."
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the UN's nuclear watchdog, voiced hope that the summit would produce "concrete progress" and a resumption of nuclear inspections which have been suspended for years.Read More...