President Trump said Wednesday he does not need to “rush” an agreement with North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program, and the process could take as many as three years — a longer time table than his national security adviser John Bolton has previously laid out.
“We’re not playing the time game. If it takes two years, three years or five months, it doesn’t matter. There’s no nuclear testing, and there’s not testing of rockets,” Trump said at a news conference on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Trump put forth an optimistic outlook on the status of the talks, citing a series of letters he received from Kim Jong Un and the North Korean leader’s decision to halt nuclear testing as evidence of a diplomatic breakthrough that staved off an imminent war with the isolated regime.
“If I wasn’t elected, you would have had a war” Trump said, claiming that President Barack Obama told him before he took office that the United States was on the cusp of military confrontation with North Korea.
In response to Trump’s claim, former Obama national security spokesman Ned Price said, “The Department of Defense always looks at contingencies, but the Obama administration was consistently of the belief . . . that diplomacy was the only viable option given what we knew would be catastrophic implications of a conflict on the Peninsula.”
Trump’s assessment of the success of his negotiations, which haven’t yielded a detailed commitment from the North, is not shared by all of his top advisers. U.S. intelligence officials concluded this summer that North Korea is still considering ways of concealing the number of nuclear weapons it has and does not intend to fully surrender its stockpile.
Bolton has publicly endorsed a one-year timeline for North Korea to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile program.
But Trump said positive developments that have not been made public will prove the wisdom of his nuclear negotiations with Kim. “If you saw what’s going on behind the scenes, I think you’d be very impressed,” he said. “I’ve received two letters from Chairman Kim. . . . They’re letters that are magnificent in the sense of his feeling for wanting to get this done.”
Trump’s enthusiasm for the high-stakes talks came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced he had accepted an invitation from North Korea to return to Pyongyang next month, a sign that talks will resume after Trump canceled a meeting last month citing a “lack of progress.”
Pompeo will discuss securing the “final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement, and “prepare for a second summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim.”
Pompeo made the announcement after meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at the General Assembly.
The top U.S. diplomat left a Security Council session chaired by Trump to sit down with Ri and discuss next steps, said a senior State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The trip will focus on laying a foundation for a successful summit, the official said, and creating a basis for more negotiations.
Pompeo’s previously scheduled trip, which would have been his fourth visit to the isolated country, was canceled after the United States received a letter from Kim Yong Chol, the North’s top nuclear negotiator, that diplomats described as “rude” and insulting.
At the time, Trump blamed the lack of progress in the denuclearization talks on China, Pyongyang’s critical ally. “I do not believe they are helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were,” Trump tweeted. He said Beijing’s change in behavior was due to his administration’s “much tougher Trading stance with China.”
On Wednesday, however, Trump thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping during a U.N. Security Council meeting, saying working with the Chinese leader on the North Korea issue “has been a pleasure and an honor.”
The Trump administration says U.N. sanctions against North Korea will remain in place until the country denuclearizes. In his remarks Wednesday, Trump said the United States has detected that some nations are violating U.N. sanctions.
“This includes illegal ship-to-ship transfers, which must end immediately,” Trump said. “The safety of the Korean Peninsula, the region and the world, depends on full compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions. Very, very important.”
Carol Morello and Anne Gearan contributed to this report.