WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump says he is open to talks with North Korea “at the appropriate time.”
In a telephone conversation with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday, Trump “expressed his openness to holding talks between the United States and North Korea at the appropriate time under the right circumstances,” according to a readout of the call issued by the White House.
"The two leaders underscored the importance of continuing the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea," the statement said.
President Moon’s office first reported the conversation, which came a day after North and South Korea held their first talks in more than two years. The South Korean readout said Trump had agreed that there would be no military action while any talks were in progress.
Trump and Moon both held news conferences Wednesday at which they spoke about the prospects for a more stable Korean peninsula, where tensions have been at peak levels for months.
‘Peace through strength’
Trump, standing alongside visiting Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in the White House East Room, said he was hopeful of an era of “peace through strength” as he oversees a strengthening of U.S. military forces.
“I think we’re going to have a long period of peace. I hope we do,” Trump said. “Certainly we have problems with North Korea, but a lot of good talks are going on right now. ... I see a lot of good energy. I like it very much what I’m seeing.”
At his news conference in Seoul earlier in the day, Moon credited Trump with helping facilitate Tuesday’s inter-Korean talks by increasing pressure through sanctions on the North Korean leadership.
But the South Korean leader said his approach, which entails reducing tensions through dialogue and engagement, differs from Trump’s emphasis on pressuring Kim Jong Un’s regime with sanctions and the threat of military force.
South Korea, Moon said, wants to pursue denuclearization without risking a devastating war with North Korea that would put at risk millions of Koreans on both sides of the border.
“How can we de-escalate these issues and prevent a possible armed conflict, and while doing so bring North Korea to a dialogue? That is our current dilemma, and that requires a prudent approach,” Moon said.
Moon described agreements reached during Tuesday’s inter-Korean talks as a positive first step that could create a pause in provocations and give momentum to diplomacy.
Trump, at his news conference, spoke of the value of multilateral cooperation in pressuring North Korea toward denuclearization.
“We're working with China on North Korea. We’re working with various other countries and I think we’re doing very well,” Trump told reporters. “We had a great talk as you know this morning with President Moon and I think a lot of things are happening.”
Moon emphasized Wednesday that denuclearization of North Korea is the long-term goal of his efforts to engage with Pyongyang to participate in the upcoming Olympics, and to resume military talks.
“What we can do at the moment is improve inter-Korean relations, engage North Korea in dialogue, so that North Korea can return to the negotiation table for ultimately denuclearization,” the South Korean leader said.
The White House confirmed Wednesday that Vice President Mike Pence would lead a high-level U.S. delegation attending the Winter Olympics next month in South Korea.
Trump has in the past expressed a variety of opinions about the value of talking to the Pyongyang regime.
In a tweet last October, the president said he had told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that he was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with ‘Little Rocket Man,’” a nickname he had given to North Korean leader Kim.
But in comments at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, Trump expressed hope for a positive outcome of the inter-Korea dialogue “Who knows where it leads? Hopefully it will lead to success for the world. Not just for our country but for the world,” he said.
Brian Padden in Seoul and Steve Herman at the White House contributed to this report.