White House puts an asterisk on Trump, Kim Jong Un meeting

President Donald Trump will not meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un unless North Korea takes “concrete and verifiable actions” toward denuclearization, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday.

“They have made some major promises. They have made promises to denuclearize. They have made promises to stop nuclear and missile testing,” Sanders said. “We’re not going to have this meeting take place until we see concrete actions that match the words and the rhetoric of North Korea.”

Sanders’ comments Friday cast doubt on the President’s much-ballyhooed agreement to meet the North Korean leader, with the White House appearing to impose new conditions that were not apparent a day earlier. The South Korean national security adviser said Kim is “committed to denuclearization,” but there was no indication that North Korea had promised to take steps toward denuclearization in order to secure a meeting with the US President.

Instead, Kim only promised to stop nuclear and ballistic missile testing and said he accepted the right of the US and South Korea to move forward with joint military exercises later this year.

Sanders’ words on Friday also marked the White House’s first comments preconditioning the meeting. In a statement the previous evening, Sanders said Trump “will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined” and that the US looks “forward to the denuclearization of North Korea.”

But Sanders on Friday repeatedly claimed that North Korea had “promised” to denuclearize and said Pyongyang would need to take “concrete and verifiable actions” toward that aim for Trump and Kim to meet.

“The President will not have the meeting without having concrete steps or seeing concrete actions taken by North Korea,” she said.

Sanders did not respond to requests to clarify her comments, but a White House official signaled Trump wasn’t wavering in his commitment to meet with Kim.

“The invitation has been extended and accepted, and that stands,” the White House official said.

Sanders’ comments appeared to realign the White House’s position with the one senior administration officials had laid out in the days before Trump stunned the world by agreeing to meet face-to-face with Kim.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday said hours before Trump’s agreement that the US was still a long way from agreeing to direct talks. A senior administration official said days earlier North Korea would need to take “concrete steps” toward denuclearization before the US would agree to talks.

Tom Countryman, a former acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said Friday that Sanders’ remarks brought “confusion.”

“What the North Koreans have promised to do is not to conduct nuclear and ballistic missile tests prior to and during these negotiations. And they have said that the goal is denuclearization, but they have not said that denuclearization will occur before this meeting takes place,” Countryman said on CNN.