On Thursday evening, a South Korean official announced from the White House that President Donald Trump has agreed to meet Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, by May. A senior U.S. official told CNN that Kim offered to suspend his country's nuclear testing in the meantime, which would be a major development.
Trump himself teased the announcement on Thursday afternoon, popping into the White House press briefing room and telling the assembled reporters to expect an announcement from South Korea later in the evening. The surprise appearance set off a bit of a frenzy in the briefing room, raising expectations for a newsworthy announcement.
For her part, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders informed reporters that South Korean National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong would be delivering a statement from the White House briefing room at 7 p.m. ET, which set the stage for the announcement.
When it was finally time for Chung's statement, he informed White House reporters that Kim, the head of the isolated and historically hostile North Korean state, has agreed to suspend nuclear testing in advance of the meeting.
"I told President Trump that in our meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he's committed to denuclearization. He pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests," Chung told the reporters.
This is a major diplomatic benchmark, and it's not without controversy. Historically, U.S. presidents have been wary of direct engagement and negotiation with the head of the North Korean state. The country, which is rife with human rights abuses, has only had three leaders since Korea was divided shortly after World War II ― Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un. Basically, it's a hereditary dictatorship.
Trump has been teasing for a while that he'd like to sit down with Kim, even bringing the idea up during his recent speech at the Gridiron dinner. He ultimately made a joke out of it, however, remarking that "As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned, that’s his problem, not mine."
Chung, who met with Kim earlier this week and relayed details of the meeting to the United States, credited the administration's aggressive posture toward North Korea with creating the conditions that made Thursday's announcement possible.
"I explained to President Trump that his leadership, and his maximum pressure policy, along with international solidarity, brought us to this juncture," he said, as detailed by USA Today. The Trump administration has rallied the United Nations to impose ever-tightening sanctions against North Korea following a battery of missile tests."
It's unclear precisely when the meeting between Trump and Kim will take place, although Chung stated that Trump would like to meet Kim by May in the hopes of achieving "full denuclearization."
Throughout the first year of Trump's presidency, North Korea has been a vocal and highly visible source of foreign policy tumult. Tensions between the isolated nation and the United States appeared to have escalated significantly throughout the first year of the administration, as illustrated by a back-and-forth war of words between Trump and Kim.
Trump, for instance, threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if such were necessary to defend America or its allies, in his very first speech to the United Nations as president. He also, in a reportedly off-the-cuff remark, warned that if North Korea continued to threaten the United States, it would "be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen.”
Kim, for his part, has referred to Trump as a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard," the latter term referring to an elderly person in the grips of senility. The North Korean government has also routinely threatened both the United States and South Korea with hyperbolic language, such as threatening to turn the two countries into a "sea of fire."
In other words, if this meeting actually happens, they'll probably have plenty to talk about.