WASHINGTON/TOKYO -- U.S. President Donald Trump will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un soon, the White House said on Thursday.
If the meeting happens, it will be the first in history between American and North Korean leaders.
The head of South Korea's National Security Office, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters at the White House Thursday that Trump had said he would meet Kim "by May to achieve permanent denuclearization."
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement on Thursday that Trump has accepted the request from the North Korean leader to meet "at a place and time to be determined." She added: "We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain."
Chung said Kim had "pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests" and "expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible." The envoy of South Korean President Moon Jae-in also met with U.S. National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster.
Chung added that Kim had expressed understanding about the routine joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. -- a practice Pyongyang had previously slammed as a threat to its national security.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday morning that he plans to visit the U.S. by April to meet with Trump. Abe spoke to reporters at his residence in Tokyo after speaking by telephone with his U.S. counterpart. He said Pyongyang's eagerness to meet with the U.S. leader is "thanks to the joint efforts by Japan, the U.S., South Korea and the international community to pressure North Korea."
Trump posted on his Twitter hours after the news about his meeting with North Korea's Kim. "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!" he wrote.
South Korea's Ministry of Unification said on Friday that it hopes the planned meeting will become "an important turning point for the Korean Peninsula to achieve denuclearization and solidify strong peace." It also vowed that South Korea will continue working closely with the U.S.
Some experts are critical about the move, however.
"Trump's decision to meet with Kim is a major strategic gamble that will not lead to North Korea's denuclearization," the Eurasia Group said in a research note. "Instead, it will enhance the stature and legitimacy of Kim's regime, give him more time to develop his nuclear weapons arsenal, and enable him to more effectively seek sanctions relief."
The political risk consultancy also noted that the summit essentially provides Kim equal status with the U.S. president and strengthens his bid to have North Korea be recognized as a de facto nuclear power.
The announcement of the meeting was kept top secret and hidden from U.S. allies, and even within the U.S. government. It is understood that only a handful of people at the core of the Trump administration knew about the matter. Prior to the announcement, Trump made a rare appearance in the press conference room of the White House and hinted that there would be big news regarding North Korea soon.
Asian markets reacted to the news Friday morning. The South Korean won strengthened against the U.S. dollar on Friday morning on expectations that easing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea will positively impact the South Korean economy. The won is trading at around 1,069 to the dollar, up from around 1,073-1,075 in Thursday afternoon trading in New York.
In stock markets, South Korea's benchmark Kospi index also jumped to over 2,474 on Friday morning, rising by over 1.6% from Thursday's close.
In Japan, the benchmark Nikkei Stock Average opened higher on Friday and extended gains after the news broke on the U.S. and North Korean leaders' meeting, at one point rising by more than 500 points from Thursday's close to around 21,850 before falling later in the morning.
Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Mitsui Sumitomo Asset Management, called the meeting between Trump and Kim "an unexpected move." He added, "Another missile launch or nuclear test by North Korea before the meeting has become unlikely, which reduces geopolitical risks for the Japanese market for now."
Tomomi Kikuchi, Nikkei staff writer in Tokyo, contributed to this report.