It was perhaps the first time North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had ever answered a question from a foreign journalist. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo
As the press was about to be ushered out so President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could meet on Thursday in Vietnam, a reporter shouted a question: “Chairman Kim, are you confident?”
In a stunning — and possibly unprecedented — move, Kim answered. Story Continued Below
He paused, looked at his translator, then offered some brief thoughts.
“It’s too early to tell, but I wouldn’t say I’m pessimistic,” he said through the translator. “From what I feel right now, I do have a feeling that good results will come out.”
Perhaps emboldened, reporters came prepared with more questions for Kim when they were let back into the room following several hours of meetings between Trump, Kim and various officials from both sides.
One reporter asked if Kim was willing to denuclearize.
“If I’m not willing to do that I wouldn’t be here right now,” Kim said, prompting Trump to grin and praise his answer.
“That might be the best answer you’ve ever heard,” the president quipped.
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Asked if he would agree to take concrete steps to achieve that goal, Kim smiled as he gestured to the table everyone was sitting at. “That is what we are discussing right now.”
Later, Trump even encouraged Kim to answer a question about whether he was amenable to the U.S. opening a liaison office in North Korea, something that could appear in a joint agreement at the end of the summit.
“That is something that is welcomeable,” Kim said, with Trump agreeing that the idea was a “great thing.”
Trump did occasionally shield Kim, telling reporters, “don’t raise your voice please, this isn’t like dealing with Trump.” He also jumped in on a pointed question about whether the two sides were discussing human rights, given the North Korean government’s repressive history.
“We’re discussing everything,” Trump interjected.
Still, it was perhaps the first time Kim had ever answered questions from foreign journalists. And it was a particularly striking moment as it came amid ongoing squabbles over press access at the summit.
The issue became point of contention early during Trump’s second meeting with Kim when reporters were mostly barred from a dinner meeting between the two leaders Wednesday night. The restriction came after reporters shouted questions at the president about the salacious congressional testimony of his former lawyer, Michael Cohen.
The White House said “the sensitive nature of the meetings” necessitated the decision.
A day earlier, the White House press corps had been booted from its White House-sanctioned filing center, which happened to be located in the same hotel Kim is staying in for the duration of his visit.
North Korea tightly controls its media outlets, only allowing fawning coverage of Kim, and the leader has previously ignored questions from the few foreign reporters he does encounter.
Instead, Kim is more accustomed to speaking with Americans like former NBA star Dennis Rodman.
The rebounding specialist — who also claims a friendship with Trump and appeared on “The Celebrity Apprentice” — has made multiple visits to North Korea to meet with Kim in recent years. Trump even named him an “Ambassador of Goodwill to North Korea.”
Rodman on Wednesday wished the two leaders luck in an Instagram post before their meeting began.
“My continued friendship with Chairman Kim remains strong — a friendship I encourage you to continue to use for our nation’s benefit,” Rodman wrote. “While I will not be able to attend the Hanoi events, I plan on following up with you, your team, and my friend, Chairman Kim.”
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