North Korean leader Kim Jong Un must first take "concrete steps" toward disarming before
President Donald Trump will meet with him, the White House said Friday.
"The president will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete action" taken on the vague promises North Korea has made to South Korean envoys on "denuclearization" and halting its nuclear and missile tests, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said at a press briefing.
Sanders did not define the concrete steps or suggest how they might be verified, but said the North had to "follow through on the promises they've made" before Trump will participate in a summit that South Korean officials said would probably take place at the end of May.
In a Tweet Thursday night, Trump hailed the prospect of meeting face-to-face with Kim to forge a path to peace on the peninsula. But Sanders said a time and location for the meeting hadn't been set.
"That's yet to be determined," she said.
By mid-afternoon Friday, North Korea had yet to respond to Trump's agreement to hold a summit, and the usually bombastic North Korean propaganda outlets remained silent.
Sanders made the comments as the U.S and South Korea on Friday renewed their resolve to go ahead with long-planned joint military exercises that will continue into May.
Pentagon spokespeople declined to give a start date for the Foal Eagle and Key Resolve training exercises, but South Korean news outlets, citing defense officials, said the annual Foal Eagle war game, running two months or longer, was expected to begin sometime after April 1.
North Korea's Kim, who has denounced previous Foal Eagle exercises as practice for an invasion, has asked that Foal Eagle and Key Resolve either be cut short or scaled down, but said that the exercises would not affect the proposed talks with Trump, according to South Korea's top envoy to the North.
South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo suggested earlier this week to Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, that the U.S. might leave nuclear submarines out of the mix of naval forces in the Foal Eagle exercises as a gesture to the North, but Swift rejected the proposal.
Swift told the Korea Herald Thursday that the exercises would be "the same size, scope and scale" as previous ones, He brushed off Song's comment on nuclear submarines as banter between naval officers.
"Those may have been his words, but that's not how I took it," said Swift, who was expected to retire in May. "Being a retired admiral, he [Song] is quick to suggest what I should do with the naval forces assigned to me," Swift said.
Chung Eui-yong, head of the South Korea's National Security Office and the special envoy of President Moon Jae-in, said that Kim told him in Pyongyang earlier this week that "as the situation on the Korean peninsula becomes stabilized, the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises may also be adjusted."
However, in his startling announcement at the White House Thursday night that Trump had agreed to meet with Kim, Chung said that Kim also "understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue."
In January, Trump and South Korea's Moon agreed to postpone Foal Eagle and Key Resolve during the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in the South Korean ski resort of Pyeongchang.
Both events featured the participation of North Korean teams.
At the time, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that the exercises would go ahead once the Paralympics concluded.
The Paralympics began Friday as South Korea announced a grant of $120,000 to North Korea to support the participation of its team at the events which were scheduled to end on March 18.
At the Winter Olympics, the South and North Korea teams marched into the stadium together under unification flags but at the Paralympics opening ceremonies Friday they marched separately under their own flags.
At the opening ceremonies for the Paralympics, South Korea's Moon said the separate flags should not be seen as diminishing the peace efforts.
"A small step to peace that started out as a joint inter-Korean women's ice hockey team has been growing rapidly like a snowball," he said.
Moon said the Pyeongchang games set the stage for his own summit with Kim next month at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone between the two countries.
"I believe the Pyeongchang Olympics and Paralympics as well as our endeavors for peace will help create a new global peace," Moon said.
In his Tweet Thursday night, Trump appeared eager to test his claimed deal-making skills in a meeting with Kim that would be the first between a U.S. president and a North Korean leader.
"Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached," Trump said. "Meeting being planned!"
He added, "Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze."
The latest peace overtures followed more than 20 North Korean missile tests last year. The tests were part of efforts to perfect an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) with a survivable warhead to target U.S. mainland cities.
As tensions increased, Trump and Kim traded insults. Trump called Kim a "maniac" and "little rocket man." Kim called Trump a "a mentally deranged U.S. dotard."
Before the White House began setting out conditions for the talks, China and Russia welcomed the prospect of a summit.
"We consider it to be a step in the right direction. Hopefully, the agreement will be implemented," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.
A commentary in China's official Xinhua news agency said that a Trump-Kim meeting would show "notable progress regarding the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, and deserves applause from everyone, especially after the tit-for-tat vicious cycle as Washington and Pyongyang repeatedly traded threats that raised the specter of a nuclear war in the region last year."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.