NEW YORK/WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump told South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday that the time was not right to expand economic cooperation with North Korea, and that such concessions should come only after a deal is reached in which the North agrees to abandon its nuclear weapons.
Trump was asked by a Korean reporter ahead of his meeting with Moon whether he supported the South Korean leader's efforts to expand economic assistance to North Korea.
"This isn’t the right time," Trump said, although he said he would strongly support such measures when the time was right.
"When the right deal is made, and when the nuclear weapons are gone, I just think that North Korea has potential as great as anything I’ve ever seen in terms of potential. They have an unbelievable location," the president said, citing the North's geographical advantage of being "surrounded by sea on two sides," and being neighbors with Russia, China, and South Korea.
"You just can’t do better than that. And they have magnificent land. It has tremendous potential," he said at the White House.
Trump also said the current sanctions on North Korea will remain in place.
Moon's first meeting with Trump in four months came at a time when South Korea is eager for its neighbor to reengage in talks with the U.S., after Trump abruptly ended his in-person meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi without a deal on denuclearization.
Moon called on the U.S. to "maintain the momentum of dialogue" and aim at a third summit in the near future to signal a "positive outlook" to the international community.
Moon said, through an interpreter, that South Korea has "witnessed a dramatic turnaround regarding the political situation on the Korean Peninsula" after Trump initiated "personal diplomacy" with Kim.
The Hanoi summit is not a disappointment but "part of a bigger process that will lead us to a bigger agreement" on North Korea's denuclearization, Moon added.
Trump said the two countries would discuss potential future meetings with Kim. "Hopefully, and I really believe that, over a period of time, a lot of tremendous things will happen" with North Korea, Trump said, adding that progress would be made "step by step."
Trump said South Korea has agreed to purchase a "tremendous amount" of U.S. military equipment. The president thanked China and Russia, who have "helped a lot at the border."
"China and Russia have been quite good -- that doesn't mean they can't get better -- but they've been quite good at the border, and I just want to thank both of those countries," Trump said.
Ahead of his meeting with the U.S. leader, Moon met for 50 minutes with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton. According to Korean diplomatic sources, Moon told the Americans that a "top down" style of decision-making was necessary to secure results in the talks with North Korea.
The U.S. side replied that they will pursue dialogue with Pyongyang "at various levels."
On Wednesday, Kim Jong Un told the ruling Workers' Party of Korea that building a stronger domestic economy would hurt the "hostile forces who go with bloodshot eyes miscalculating that sanctions can bring the DPRK to its knees," using the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.