Donald Trump said Thursday it’s not “the right time” to make economic deals with North Korea, including the reopening of a joint industrial park shuttered by international sanctions — a signal nuclear talks haven’t advanced since the president walked out of a February summit.
“At the right time I would have great support. This isn’t the right time,” Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-In, after he was asked about re-opening the industrial park. Moon has advocated for inter-Korean economic projects.
Moon has made encouraging the nuclear talks between North Korea and the U.S. a central focus of his presidency. Trump did allow that another summit with Kim “could happen” and that he and Moon would discuss the possibility during their meeting.
Asked if he’s considering removing sanctions that have crippled North Korea’s economy — an explicit request from the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, in order to continue talks — Trump said the U.S. is considering providing humanitarian aid.
The White House previously has said it would not roll back any of the economic sanctions imposed on North Korea until the country completely and verifiably dismantles its nuclear weapons program.
The failure of the Vietnam summit proved politically damaging to Moon and prompted fresh skepticism about Kim’s willingness to actually abandon his nuclear program. Trump’s reluctance to authorize the reopening of the industrial complex could prove another political setback, and further chill negotiations with Pyongyang.
On Wednesday, Kim asked top ruling party members to deal a “severe blow to hostile foreign forces” by resisting sanctions against the country, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. The comment was seen as a signal that his country could withdraw from talks — or even restart nuclear or ballistic missile tests — if South Korea and the U.S. don’t provide some economic relief from sanctions.
Last month, a top North Korean diplomat told reporters that Kim would decide “in a short period of time” whether to continue his freeze on bomb and missile tests. North Korea is planning to celebrate the birth of its founder — Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung — on Monday, an occasion the regime has sometimes marked with shows of military might.
Trump has pointed to North Korea’s freeze on military testing as evidence his strategy is successful, even if the nuclear talks have not yet paid dividends.