It’s not just theater: U.S. officials defend Trump-Kim meeting

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. officials on Sunday defended President Donald Trump’s decision to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying the move was not just for show and not a gift to Pyongyang, as one senator insisted.

“President Trump isn’t doing this for theater. He’s going to solve a problem,” said Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said on the “Fox News Sunday” program.

The United States expects North Korea to halt all nuclear and missile testing in advance of any meeting, according to Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who also spoke on a Sunday morning TV program.

The goal of the meeting remains denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, something Kim has agreed to discuss, they noted. Pompeo said U.S. military exercises in the region will continue in the lead-up to the talks.

The Republican president agreed on Thursday to accept an invitation from the North Korean leader to meet by May after months of escalating tensions over Pyongyang’s advancing nuclear and missile programs.

Trump would become the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a leader of the reclusive country after having exchanged insults. Trump called Kim “Little Rocket Man” and Kim referred to Trump as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

On Saturday, Trump said his meeting could fizzle without an agreement or could result in “the greatest deal for the world,” with a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

No venue or date for the meeting has been determined.

Traveling in Oman on the Arabian peninsula, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he will not discuss issues related to North Korea because the situation was too sensitive and the Pentagon was not directly involved in the diplomatic outreach.

Trump’s action drew concern from Democrats as well as fellow Republicans, who said the United States should have demanded concessions before granting North Korea a meeting. The North’s leaders have sought a face-to-face meeting with a U.S. president for decades.

FILE PHOTO – A combination photo shows a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) handout of Kim Jong Un released on May 10, 2016, and Donald Trump posing for a photo in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA handout via Reuters/File Photo & REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

“Before they get that kind of prize, we should insist that they make some real changes, verifiable changes to their programs,” like showing they have frozen their nuclear program, Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Warren said she was worried the North would “take advantage” of Trump.

Pompeo and Mnuchin said the United States will make no concessions and will continue to push economic sanctions against Pyongyang before the meeting.

The U.S. officials dismissed criticism that Trump’s decision to meet elevated the North Korean leader’s international standing.

They said decades of diplomatic efforts have failed and Trump was keeping up tough sanctions and a strong U.S. defense posture while taking a diplomatic step toward containing the North’s nuclear ambitions.

“This administration has its eyes wide open, and the whole time this conversation takes place the pressure will continue to mount on North Korea,” Pompeo said on the CBS “Face the Nation” show.

Mnuchin said Trump has been criticized for not using more diplomacy to contain Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

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“Now we have a situation where the president is using diplomacy but we’re not removing the maximum pressure campaign,” Mnuchin said on “Meet the Press.” “So the president is going to sit down and see if he can cut a deal.”

Six Republican senators last week sent a letter to Trump to share his plan with Congress that keeps up pressure on “this heinous regime.”

One of them, Republican Cory Gardner, told CBS on Sunday it was important to see “concrete and verifiable steps” from North Korea before the meeting occurs.

“After this meeting, there’s going to be very little left of that diplomatic runway,” he said.

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