The first inkling that something big was afoot on North Korea came from President Donald Trump himself: He popped his head into the White House briefing room late Thursday afternoon to tease a “major statement” coming soon — from South Korean officials.
Then ABC reporter Jon Karl ran into Trump in a West Wing hallway and the president let out a little more string. Asked if the announcement was about talks with North Korea, Trump offered: “It’s almost beyond that. Hopefully, you will give me credit.”
Within hours came the remarkable news that after years of brinksmanship and threats of mutual obliteration, Trump had agreed to sit down with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un — a man he’s long derided as “Little Rocket Man.”
Instead of a televised addressed to the nation or a press conference in the stately East Room, the news ultimately was delivered by a South Korean national security official standing on the White House driveway.
In the dark.
Chung Eui-yong read his roughly two-minute, history-making statement to cameras and shivering reporters gathered in a cluster.
Trump’s earlier teaser in the briefing room — his first known visit there — sent reporters who’d missed the presidential pop-in frantically rushing to find out what he’d said as White House officials scrambled to figure out just where the announcement would occur. Initial plans for a briefing room announcement with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders were scuttled in favour of the driveway.
Several Pentagon officials said shortly before the announcement that they had no knowledge of what the South Koreans planned to announce. And U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, travelling in Africa, just hours before said the U.S. was “a long ways” from direct talks.
Word was already out that the South Korean delegation that had just returned from Pyongyang had spent the day briefing White House officials on their conversations. And the delegates had already made public much of what they’d learned.
Some outlets soon reported that Chung had delivered a message from Kim requesting a one-on-one meeting with Trump. But no one was prepared for what would come next.
In his driveway statement, Chung delivered the headline: Trump had accepted Kim’s invitation to meet by the end of May.
Almost a half-hour after that news broke, the White House weighed in with a statement from Sanders confirming that Trump had indeed accepted the invitation and the two leaders would meet “at a place and time to be determined.”
Trump wrapped up the day’s chaotic events with, what else, a tweet: “Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!”
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Zeke Miller in Washington and Josh Lederman in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.
Jill Colvin, The Associated Press