North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lashed out at U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday, describing his offer to hold talks with him and President Moon Jae-in as a “terrible” attempt at “strangling” North Korea, according to a dispatch from North Korea’s state-run news agency.
“Whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States,” said Mr. Kim in a speech broadcast on state-run television.
Mr. Kim’s latest rhetorical spat with the Trump administration comes the day after the North Korean leader made a series of economic concessions and public expressions of openness to negotiations with South Korea. In a speech to the North Korean legislature on Wednesday, Mr. Kim declared his country would be prepared to cut diplomatic ties with the United States, scrapping the 1953 Korean War armistice and demanding an unconditional end to U.S.-led economic sanctions.
Trump administration officials denounced the North Korean leader’s moves as a blatant ploy and called his meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in a sign of North Korea’s willingness to engage in peace talks, not bargaining. “President Trump appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and President Moon,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined.”
“President Trump stands ready to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time of his convenience,” she added.
North Korea’s formal response on Thursday came after the South announced it would seek to find two American citizens in their 20s who have been serving time in a North Korean prison for alleged acts of subversion. Mr. Kim said his nation “had been in need of enemy combatants” since the Korean War, according to an early copy of the report.
“The United States … is needlessly flaunting its military strength as if it were striving to prevent any peace process from starting on the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Kim said.
Mr. Kim has made high-level visits to South Korea before. In June 2017, he shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the demilitarized zone, which bisects the two Koreas, after the United States agreed to delay a planned military exercise with South Korea during the same period of inter-Korean diplomacy. Mr. Trump agreed to honor the inter-Korean talks as well, and suspended the largest joint military exercise this year, an event many analysts considered a sign of North Korea’s willingness to deal.
Despite some success in gaining concessions, especially with former U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s exit, tensions with the Trump administration remain high over the steady production of new sanctions against North Korea. Trump officials have also been vague about how talks could proceed if Mr. Kim refuses to give up his nuclear weapons.
Thursday’s commentary from the state-run news agency is North Korea’s first official response to the invitation from South Korea for talks with the United States.