When Trump triumphantly accepted the invitation to meet with Kim Jong-Un last night, verbally delivered to the White House by the South Korean delegation, it almost seemed that peace on earth was about to break out after what would otherwise be one of the greatest diplomatic breakthroughs in recent US history. More importantly, the meeting between Trump and Kim, tentatively scheduled "before May", appeared to have no conditions attached to it.
That changed on Friday afternoon, when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the U.S. will require North Korea to take “concrete and verifiable steps” before President Trump attends an announced sit down with Kim Jong Un.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says President Trump won’t meet with Kim Jong Un “until we see concrete actions that match the words and the rhetoric of North Korea” https://t.co/qTID7SRySB pic.twitter.com/bJrQz4kvPQ— CNN (@CNN) March 9, 2018
This is a notable development as the White House had not previously suggested said that there would be any "string attached" for the talks to take place in the next month.
“This meeting won't take place without concrete actions that match the promises that have been made by North Korea,” Sanders said. However, as on Thursday, Sanders did not specify what promises must be kept or what steps North Korea must take for the planned meeting to go through.
According to the South Korean delegation, Kim was prepared to suspend his ballistic missile tests in the hopes of opening a dialogue. Perhaps the "condition" is only for Kim to keep his word, something he has not been very good at in the past: Sanders said Friday that they expect North Korea’s actions and rhetoric to be aligned if the president is to sit down with Kim.
When reporters pressed Sanders on whether it was possible that the meeting would fall through, she said that “a lot of things are possible,” and added that “I'm not going to walk through every hypothetical that could exist in the world. But I can tell you that the president has accepted that invitation on the basis that we have concrete and verifiable steps.”
In other words, as "tribute" Trump will demand a concession of good will, one which the Pyongyang dictator may not be willing to give, in the process unwinding all the alleged process achieved last night.
Meanwhile, Trump has insisted that sanctions would remain in place on North Korea until there is “permanent denuclearization” and the White House says that planned military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea will continue as planned. Additionally, administration officials have emphasized that the planned meeting falls short of official negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea.
And while it’s unclear whether the White House expects North Korea to begin the denuclearization process before or after the meeting takes place, today's "footnote" suggests that some token actions will be required in advance of the meeting.
“Let's not forget that the North Koreans did promise something — they promised to denuclearize, they have promised to stop nuclear and missile testing,” Sanders said.
“And they have recognized that we're going to continue in our military exercises. Let's be very clear. The United States has made zero concessions, but North Korea has made some promises. And again, this meeting won't take place without concrete actions that match the promises that have been made by North Korea.”
The White House took credit for Kim’s willingness to negotiate, saying it was the result of its “maximum pressure” campaign on North Korea.
“For the first time in a long time, the United States is actually having conversations from a position of strength, not a position of weakness like the one that North Korea finds itself in,” Sanders said. “The president is getting exactly what he wants."
For now, perhaps, but the president may lose it all in an instant if KCNA were to lob over an angry letter overnight saying that the invitation is off.