Asia Pacific

Jim Mattis says U.S.-North Korea diplomacy at 'delicate' stage, says he won't talk about Kim-Trump diplomacy


U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Sunday he will not be speaking about the “delicate” situation with North Korea, saying the White House and State Department are leading the negotiations.

“I do not want to talk about Korea at all. It’s that delicate,” Mattis told reporters when asked about a possible meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“This is a diplomatically led effort,” he added.

“When you get into a position like this, the potential for misunderstanding remains very high . . . so I want those who are actually engaging in the discussions to be the ones who answer all media questions about it,” he said.

“Right now, every word is going to be nuanced and parsed apart across different cultures at different times of the day in different contexts, and right now I want a very straight line from those actually responsible, not from those of us in a supporting or background role,” Mattis said.

Top South Korean official Chung Eui-yong announced Thursday that Kim and Trump will meet by May to seek a deal to remove nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula.

Mattis was among the senior officials present in the White House when Trump accepted the invitation.

Chung said Kim is committed to denuclearization, and Kim has pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests during talks.

He also declined to discuss the timing and scale of annual U.S.-South Korean military maneuvers that were postponed during the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea. Those exercises are expected to be held in April, but no official announcement has been made.

Trump said Saturday he believes North Korea will abide by its pledge to suspend missile tests while he prepares for the summit. He noted in a tweet that North Korea has refrained from such tests since November and said Kim “has promised not to do so through our meetings.”

“I believe they will honor that commitment,” the president said.

Later, at a political rally in Pennsylvania, when Trump mentioned Kim’s name, the crowd booed. but Trump responded: “No, it’s very positive . . . no, after the meeting you may do that, but now we have to be very nice because let’s see what happens, let’s see what happens.”