Donald Trump has accepted a personal invitation from the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to discuss the possible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but also has vowed to keep sanctions in place until a firm deal is reached.

Following the latest round of successful negotiations between the two Koreas this week in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un sent a personal invitation to the American leader to discuss improving bilateral ties. After months of saber-rattling between the two leaders, Trump agreed to meet the North Korean leader by May, South Korean National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong announced at the White House on Thursday, after delivering a letter from Pyongyang to the American leader.

Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2018

Trump confirmed the announcement on Twitter, noting that “Kim Jong-un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze,” earlier this week. Revealing the context of the intra-Korean negotiations which led to the invitation, Trump added:

“Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!”

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Prior to accepting Kim’s invitation, Trump held a phone conversation with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in which the leaders as usual agreed to apply maximum pressure on North Korea. Abe plans to visit the US in April ahead of the proposed meeting between the North Korean and US delegations.

Confirming Trump’s acceptance of the invitation to meet Kim, the White House stressed that the place and time of a US-North Korean encounter is yet “to be determined.”“We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain,” press secretary Sarah Sanders added.

Announcing the monumental breakthrough in the Korean stalemate, Chung Eui-yong noted that Kim Jong-un is now “committed to denuclearization,” and has “pledged” to refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests until talks with Trump take place. Surprisingly, Kim also made concessions towards the never-ending joint US-South Korean drills, which have greatly contributed to the ongoing tensions in the region. “He [KIM] understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue,” the Security Adviser noted during his announcement. The South Korean official further credited Trump’s leadership and the US policy of “maximum pressure” for bringing North Korea to the table.

The Korean peninsula has been divided since 1953, after an uneasy armistice suspended the bloody, three-year conflict between the Communist North and the US-allied South that, at one point, involved both US and Chinese militaries. Last month, North and South Korean athletes competed together at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

Despite the unprecedented level of negotiations between the two Koreas, which began with Kim’s New Year address seeking better ties with Seoul, Trump’s administration has put massive military and economic pressure on Pyongyang in recent months. On February 23, the US introduced a new package of sanctions on North Korea. Trump also repeatedly warned that, if sanctions do not work, the US will look at a “phase two” of action against Pyongyang.

Thursday's news has received a mixed welcome by a number of US legislators and opinion-makers in the US. Sanctions are “starting to work,” Rep. Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Thursday, noting that the administration can “pursue more diplomacy, as we keep applying pressure.”

“This is a major improvement over diplomacy that consisted of shouting insults at each other,” William Perry, secretary of defense for Bill Clinton, told Politico.

Dennis Rodman, a former NBA superstar who met Kim during his travels to North Korea in 2013 and 2014, praised Trump's willingness to negotiate with Pyongyang, telling the Associated Press that he stands ready to engage in “basketball diplomacy” in the coming months. “Well done, President Trump. You’re on the way to a historical meeting no US president has ever done,” Rodman said. “Please send my regards to Marshal Kim Jong-un and his family.”

Others, including Rex Tillerson, have shown cautious optimism. Just hours before the announcement was made, the Secretary of State noted that it is important to be “very clear-eyed and realistic about it,” stressing that the first step was to “have some kind of talks about talks.” Meanwhile, Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, added that “we’re encouraged by this development but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

I urge @realDonaldTrump to see these discussions with Kim Jong-un as the beginning of a long diplomatic process. The President must abandon his penchant for unscripted remarks and bombastic rhetoric to avoid derailing this significant opportunity for progress. #NorthKorea

— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) March 9, 2018

Colorado’s Republican Senator, Cory Gardner, said that the “price of admission” to the negotiations table must be “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts in the meantime advised Trump to avoid any “unscripted” remarks that could derail progress “of a long diplomatic process.”

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