ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
South Korean officials visiting the White House today said they were passing along an invitation for President Trump from North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. The message suggested that Trump and Kim meet to talk about denuclearization, and President Trump has apparently accepted. NPR's Elise Hu joins us from Seoul to talk about the surprise announcement. Hi, Elise.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hi there.
SHAPIRO: Tell us about this South Korean go-between. And what did he say tonight?
HU: Yeah. There were actually two envoys from South Korea, the national security head and the spy chief who earlier this week made a historic trip to Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong Un in person. That meeting early this week was actually significant in its own right because Kim Jong Un had yet to meet any South Korean officials in person since becoming the head of state. So at that meeting, they had a big dinner. They spoke for hours. And Kim Jong Un apparently during that meet-up gave these envoys a letter to deliver to President Trump.
So the envoys came back to Seoul. They announced that Kim Jong Un was willing to talk or begin talking about denuclearization, then flew to Washington. During a series of White House meetings today, that was when the invitation from Kim Jong Un was delivered asking President Trump to meet Kim Jong Un and apparently by May. So this timeline is quite condensed. And Trump apparently said yes.
Kim - the national security chief from South Korea then insisted that Seoul and Washington won't get outmaneuvered here and repeat some provocation and reward cycles that we've seen over the past couple of decades. He spoke with reporters outside the White House tonight. Here is what he had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHUNG EUI-YONG: The Republic of Korea, the United States and our partners stand together in insisting that we not repeat the mistakes of the past and that the pressure will continue until North Korea matches its words with concrete actions.
HU: So far, Kim Jong Un has agreed to temporarily halt any nuclear and missile testing during these diplomatic exchanges. And he apparently understands that the routine military exercises here on the Korean Peninsula staged between the U.S. and South Korea will continue.
SHAPIRO: We're talking about the highest level possible meeting here between the heads of state of the U.S. and North Korea. Both of these men are eccentric leaders. Neither one of them is a diplomat by training. And as you said, this is a very short timeline to meet by May. So how much can these talks really accomplish?
HU: I will tell you that the South Korean analysts here are already quite skeptical that any sort of head of state - this high-level meeting will happen by May. Summits usually happen at the end of a long series of negotiations that happen at the lower levels in which they hammer out a lot of the details. And Trump is just diving right in here, which is why a lot of the Korea analyst community is quite hesitant and skeptical about a May summit. A lot of my sources are saying, hey, talks are good, and if this were another U.S. president, I'd be thrilled. But in this case, we're just a year after fire and fury comments by the president, just that...
SHAPIRO: Little rocket man.
HU: Right, totally destroy North Korea.
HU: And suddenly he's going to have a breakthrough summit just like that. So...
HU: (Laughter) There is certainly a lot of skepticism here.
SHAPIRO: So just in our last minute, President Trump tweeted that sanctions will remain in place until some kind of an agreement is reached. Is North Korea going to accept that, or will they demand some kind of concessions in exchange for coming to the table?
HU: Yeah. So far, North Korea - it was very surprising to a lot of folks that North Korea did not ask for a suspension in those joint exercises that it so detests. North Korea really sees the exercises on the peninsula as a rehearsal for invasion. And so North Korea hasn't gotten - extracted that particular concession. But whether it will want some sanctions relief, whether it will want some aid from South Korea is still yet to be seen, Ari.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Elise Hu speaking with us from Seoul, South Korea, on what is Friday morning there. So happy Friday to you. And we're going to get through the rest of this Thursday. Thanks for joining us.
HU: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.