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Stunning North Korea announcement met with hope, skepticism

South Korea's national security adviser made a stunning announcement in the White House driveway Thursday night: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had pledged to refrain from nuclear or missile tests and wanted to meet with President Trump, an offer that Trump had reportedly accepted. Hari Sreenivasan reports on the reaction.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Surprise, praise, skepticism, the range of reactions to last night's announcement that President Trump and North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong-un, may meet face to face.

    Hari Sreenivasan begins our coverage.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    It was a stunning announcement, made more so by the circumstances, in the White House driveway, by South Korea's visiting national security adviser.

  • Chung Eui-Yong:

    Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests. And he expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    South Korean officials had met with Kim Jong-un on Monday, and then briefed President Trump Thursday afternoon.

  • Chung Eui-Yong:

    President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    If that does happen, it would mark the first time any sitting American president has met face-to-face with a North Korean leader.

    Mr. Trump weighed in on Twitter last night, saying — quote — "Great progress being made, but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached."

    Today, during a visit to Djibouti, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the president's decision wasn't a surprise.

  • Rex Tillerson:

    President Trump has said for some time that he was open to talks and he would willingly meet with Kim Jong-un when conditions were right, when the time was right. And I think, in the president's judgment, that time has arrived now.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Tillerson argued it's Kim Jong-un who has changed.

  • Rex Tillerson:

    What changed was his posture, in a fairly dramatic way, that, in all honesty, came as a little bit of a surprise to us as well.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    A top North Korean diplomat at the United Nations told The Washington Post that Kim's invitation resulted from a broad-minded and resolute decision to achieve peace.

    The sudden turn of events came after the two leaders had traded insults and threats for more than a year.

    This was President Trump addressing the U.N. General Assembly last September,

  • President Donald Trump:

    The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The North Korean leader fired back through a news reader on state-run TV.

  • Woman:

    "I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire."

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The North also launched nearly two dozen missiles last year, including intercontinental weapons that it said are capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. President Trump responded with his — quote — "maximum pressure campaign" of strict new sanctions and stepped-up military exercises.

    Today, Vice President Pence said in a statement, "President Trump's strategy to isolate the Kim regime is working. The North Koreans are coming to the table despite the United States making zero concessions."

    But, this afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders suggested the talks are not definite yet.

  • Sarah Sanders:

    We are not going to have this meeting take place until we see concrete actions that match the words and the rhetoric of North Korea.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Meanwhile, in the region, reaction was cautiously optimistic. South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke in PyeongChang.

  • Moon Jae-in:

    President Trump promised to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by May. Denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula are beginning to be realized.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    That hope was echoed by China's Foreign Ministry.

  • Geng Shuang:

    We must strive for peace and seize opportunity.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    But there's also skepticism, based on a long history of failure. The U.S. and North Korea signed the so-called agreed framework in 1994. It eventually collapsed, with both sides blaming each other for not living up to it.

    And starting in 2003, the U.S. took part in a series of six-party talks after North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They ultimately collapsed when the North expelled nuclear weapons inspectors.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will have a full examination of the potential Trump-Kim meeting after the news summary.

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