North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a combination photo with US President Donald Trump. Photos: KCNA via Reuters

US President Donald Trump on Monday opened the door to meeting North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, saying he would be honored to meet the young leader under the right circumstances, even as Pyongyang said it will continue testing nuclear weapons.

“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it,” Trump told Bloomberg News in an interview. “Under the right circumstances I would meet with him.”

Trump did not say what conditions would need to be met for any such meeting to occur, but the White House later took a more cautious tone.

“I don’t see this happening anytime soon,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

Later on Monday, a US State Department spokeswoman said in a statement: “The United States remains open to credible talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; however, conditions must change before there is any scope for talks to resume,” adding North Korea must abandon its nuclear weapons program.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been high for weeks driven by fears the North might conduct a long-range missile test, or its sixth nuclear test. North Korea regularly threatens to destroy the US, Japan and South Korea.

Trump stepped up his outreach to allies in Asia over the weekend to discuss the North Korean threat and make sure all are “on the same page” if action is needed, a top White House official said.

Washington is also seeking more help from China, the North’s only major ally, to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development.

At a UN Security Council meeting last week, Beijing argued for a revival of talks with North Korea and warned against military options, a view backed by Russia, which, like China, has a land border with North Korea.

Conflict possible

Trump warned in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible.

The US has sent the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group to waters off the Korean Peninsula as a show of force to North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

“Now that the US is kicking up the overall racket for sanctions and pressure against the DPRK, pursuant to its new DPRK policy called ‘maximum pressure and engagement,’ the DPRK will speed up at the maximum pace the measure for bolstering its nuclear deterrence,” a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement carried by its official KCNA news agency.

North Korea has carried out five nuclear tests and a series of missile tests in defiance of UN Security Council and unilateral resolutions. It is believed to have made progress in developing intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles.

It test-launched a missile on Saturday that Washington and Seoul said was unsuccessful but which nevertheless drew widespread international condemnation.

“The United States has … negotiated, had talks, waited patiently,” US Vice President Mike Pence told CBS News in an interview. “All the while we’ve seen the regime in North Korea continue its headlong pursuit of nuclear weapons, and a ballistic missile program. And the president said that’s over.”

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