President Trump on Saturday said he remains open to direct talks with North Korea's regime over its nuclear program and added that he hopes the rogue Asian nation participates in the Winter Olympics to be held in South Korea next month.
“Sure, I always believe in talking,” Trump said during a news conference at Camp David, where he was meeting with Republican congressional leaders over the GOP's 2018 agenda. "But we have a very firm stance. ... But I absolutely would do that."
Asked if he has no prerequisites to bilateral talks — past U.S. presidents have demanded the North be committed to denuclearization — Trump said Pyongyang knows that he is “not messing around” in his past statements that he will protect the United States and its allies against attacks from the North.
“At the same time, if we can come up with a very peaceful and a very good solution. … If something happens and something comes out of those talks, that would be a great thing for all humanity, it would be a great thing for all the world," Trump said.
The president's remarks come amid mounting concerns that rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula could escalate into a military confrontation.
Trump has engaged in a continuing war of words with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un over the countries' nuclear arsenals. Trump recently tweeted that his nuclear button is “much bigger & more powerful” than Kim's, after the North's leader boasted about having a button on his desk at the ready.
Even as he seemed to offer an opening to Pyongyang, the president appeared to suggest he remains ready to use military force if necessary: "You have to be prepared to do certain things and I’m totally prepared to do them."
Trump has vacillated between threats and offers of talks. Last spring he said he'd be open to talks, but then shifted course after North Korea continued its nuclear and ballistic missile tests and after Otto Warmbier, an American college student, died several days after his release from 17 months in captivity in the North.
Trump on Saturday took credit for Kim's recent overture to South Korea; the two nations spoke through a secure communications hotline and agreed to talks over the Olympics and other issues.
“Right now, they're talking Olympics; it's a start, a big start,” Trump said. “If I was not involved, they would not be talking Olympics right now.”
Trump, who agreed in a talk with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to halt joint military exercises through the Olympics, said of the North that he would “like to see them get involved in the Olympics and things will go from there. ... I'd love to see them take it beyond the Olympics.”
Trump added that his tough talk of being willing to use military force against the North “is not a stance; it's what has to be done, if it has to be done.”