Pressed On Trump Tweet, WH Offers No Proof NK Has ‘Agreed To Denuclearization’

PAJU, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 07: Tourists look towards the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea as they visit Dora Observatory inside the fortified Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) on April 7, 2018 in Paju, South Korea. T... PAJU, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 07: Tourists look towards the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea as they visit Dora Observatory inside the fortified Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) on April 7, 2018 in Paju, South Korea. The Kaesong Industrial Complex has been closed by the South Korean government since February 2016 following the North's missile launches. On April 27, 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will hold their first meeting in the joint security area (JSA) inside the DMZ amid international attention and before the summit between Kim and the U.S. president Donald Trump. (Photo by Jean Chung/Getty Images) MORE LESS
April 23, 2018 2:31 p.m.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday walked back President Donald Trump’s claim the previous day that North Korea had “agreed to denuclearization” ahead of a planned meeting between Trump and North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un. 

Based on what is known publicly, Trump’s claim appears to be false. So far, North Korea has only announced that it has halted nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile testing and suspended a nuclear test site. South Korean President Moon Jae-in told reporters last week that “North Korea is expressing a will for a complete denuclearization,” but that’s a long way from actually acting on such a desire.

At a press briefing Monday, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl asked about Trump’s tweet. “Where did they [agree to denuclearize]?” he asked. “Have they already agreed to do that?” 

“Certainly in a number of the conversations, including the comments I would refer you back to,” Sanders said, without specifying which comments she was referencing. “Also, South Korean President Moon, who has said that North Korea has expressed a will for complete denuclearization, and certainly that’s the focus of any conversation and negotiation that the United States will have with North Korea.”

She assured the press later, though, that “we’re not going to take the North Koreans simply at their word” in the course of the negotiations — though that appeared to be what Trump did in his tweet.

NPR’s Mara Liasson asked separately about the difference between Trump’s comment and Sanders’. “What is the President’s definition of complete denuclearization?” she asked.

“I’m not going to negotiate with you guys,” Sanders said. “I’m going to leave that to the President and Kim Jong Un to walk through what some of those details would look like when that meeting takes place. But I can be very clear that we expect it not to just be mentioned in words, but there have to be concrete actions that take place towards total denuclearization of the peninsula.”

“Does that mean removing all nukes, our nukes and theirs?” Liasson pressed, touching on what could be a crucial sticking point for the North Koreans.

Sanders didn’t get into the distinction, saying only that “there have to be concrete actions that stop the denuclearization [sic] of the peninsula.”

She added later, in response to a different question: “The President wants to do what is in the best interest of our country, and even in the world, and particularly having North Korea and the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons, I think is a good thing for everybody.”

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