In an interview with CBS Sunday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha said Kim was “taking stock” over a planned summit between the North and the U.S. President Donald Trump.
“I think it was an extremely courageous decision on the part of President Trump,” the foreign minister said. “We believe the North Korean leader is now taking stock. We give them the benefit of the doubt, and the time that he would need to come out with some public messaging.”
North Korea’s state media has yet to comment on the pending summit. Kang told CBS that Kim has “conveyed” his “commitment” to eventual denuclearization of the North.
“He’s given his word,” the foreign minister said. “But the significance of his word is quite weighty in the sense that this is the first time that the words came directly from the North Korean supreme leader himself, and that has never been done before.”
Kim’s willingness to negotiate over his nuclear program is a step forward, but many experts remain skeptical about how sincere he is about giving up a nuclear program that his country has built for decades despite toughening international sanctions.
South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui Yong, who headed a high-level delegation to Pyongyang and met Kim during his March 5-6 trip, says North Korea told his delegation it won’t need to keep its nuclear weapons if military threats against it are removed and it receives a credible security guarantee. The North has long maintained such a stance, saying it won’t abandon its nuclear weapons unless the United States pulls its troops from South Korea and Japan and stops regular military drills with South Korea that it views as an invasion rehearsal.
Last week, Trump appeared to suggest he would pull troops from the Korean peninsula over a trade spat with the South, a move that would make North’s leader Kim a “happy man.”
Both the Washington Post and CNN obtained audio of a speech Trump gave to a group of Missouri donors on Wednesday in which he criticized several countries, including Canada, about trade agreements several allies had with the U.S.
“We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them,” Trump said, according to both news outlets. “We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military. We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let’s see what happens.”
Kang told CBS that Trump’s comments caught the South’s attention.
“Well, anytime troops are mentioned it raises eyebrows,” the foreign minister said. “So, yes it has caught attention, but we are absolutely confident of the American commitment to the alliance and the troop presence in our country.”
WATCH: Trump says he thinks North Korea wants to make peace
The head of U.S. Pacific Command said Thursday Kim would be a “happy man” if Trump pulls troops from the peninsula.
“I believe he would do a victory dance,” Harris added, when asked about a hypothetical troop pullout. “I think he’d be a happy man if we abrogated our alliance with South Korea and with Japan.”
Though Kim hasn’t publicly addressed the planned summit with Trump, Kang told CBS she doesn’t think the North is bluffing on denuclearization.
“As I said, I think he is taking stock he has indicated his intention on the denuclearization issue but also to discuss denuclearization and North Korea-U.S. ties,” the foreign minister said. “That was a clear message our special envoys got from him and then conveyed to President Trump.”
–with a file from the Associated Press