WASHINGTON — After months of trading insults and threats of nuclear annihilation, President Donald Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un by May to negotiate an end to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, South Korean and U.S. officials said Thursday. No American president has ever met with a North Korea leader.
The South Korean national security director, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters outside the White House of the planned summit, after briefing Trump and other top U.S. officials about a rare meeting with Kim in the North Korean capital Monday.
The meeting would be unprecedented during seven decades of animosity between the U.S. and North Korea. The countries do not even have formal diplomatic relations. They remain in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.
Chung said he had told Trump that Kim says he's committed to "denuclearization" and has pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests — providing a rare diplomatic opening after a year of escalating tensions over the North's tests. The rival Koreas already have agreed to hold a leadership summit in late April.
"He (Kim) expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible," Chung said. "President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization."
Chung did not say where Trump would meet with Kim. The White House said Trump's meeting with Kim would take place "at a place and time to be determined."
Trump took office vowing to stop North Korea from attaining a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland. He's oscillated between threats and insults directed at Kim, and more-conciliatory rhetoric. His more bellicose talk, and Kim's nuclear and missile tests, have fueled fears of war.
Trump, who has ramped up economic sanctions on North Korea to force it to negotiate on giving up its nukes, has threatened the pariah nation with "fire and fury" if its threats against the U.S. and its allies continued. He has derided Kim by referring to him as "Little Rocket Man."
After Kim repeated threats against the U.S. in a New Year's address and mentioned the "nuclear button" on his office desk, Trump responded by tweeting that he has a nuclear button, too, "but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"
Tuesday after leaving Pyongyang, Chung had publicized that North Korea was offering talks with the United States on denuclearization and normalizing ties, but the proposal for a summit still came as a huge surprise, and will raise questions about whether the two sides are ready for such a high-level meeting.
Chung, who credited Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign for the diplomatic opening, said Kim understands that routine U.S.-South Korea military drills "must continue."
The drills were suspended during the Winter Olympics recently hosted by South Korea, which provided impetus for the inter-Korea rapprochement. The drills are expected to resume next month. North Korea has long protested the military maneuvers south of the divided Korean Peninsula as a rehearsal for invading the North.
Trump had made a surprise visit to the White House press briefing room Thursday afternoon to alert reporters to the South Korean announcement. When asked whether the announcement would be about talks with North Korea, he told ABC reporter Jon Karl: "It's almost beyond that. Hopefully, you will give me credit."
Tuesday, Trump had expressed both hope and skepticism about the reported offer of talks, which has yet to be confirmed, at least publicly, by the isolated North Korean government. While the path to a diplomatic resolution over the North's nuclear arsenal would be long and difficult, talks could dampen fears of war breaking out over what represents an emerging threat to the U.S. mainland.
Just a few hours earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is traveling in Africa, had said the adversaries were still a long way from holding negotiations.
Gun bump stocks would be illegal in Lincoln — to sell or possess — under a proposed ordinance that will be considered by the City Council this month.
The proposal, offered by Councilwomen Leirion Gaylor Baird and Jane Raybould, would make it unlawful for any person to sell, give away or furnish a multiburst trigger activator. And it would be illegal for anyone to possess the devices within the city limits.
A public hearing will likely be scheduled at the City Council’s March 19 meeting, and the council could vote on the issue March 26.
Gaylor Baird said she waited to see whether federal or state officials would move to ban bump stocks, which turn rifles into fully-automatic weapons.
But such a ban doesn’t appear likely, she said.
"This closes a loophole in our laws that allows someone to turn a lawful weapon into a machine gun," she said.
Language in the proposed ordinance spells out the rationale for banning the devices, such as bump stocks, hellfire triggers, trigger cranks and rotating trigger actuators.
The deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history — the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas shooting, where 58 people were killed and more than 500 injured — involved the use of a bump stock.
The firearms used in the massacre were capable of firing 400 to 800 rounds of ammunition per minute, as opposed to the 60 to 80 rounds per minute of a semi-automatic rifle, according to the proposed ordinance.
The devices not only "exponentially increase the lethality of weapons, they are undesirable for any legitimate hunting or sporting purpose as they severely compromise accuracy and the ability to control a weapon," according to the ordinance.
Former Councilman Dan Marvin introduced the idea of a bump stock ban in an open letter to the council last month.
Gaylor Baird and Raybould, both Democrats like Marvin, said they were interested in offering the proposal to the Council.
Raybould is also a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.
President Donald Trump has said he would like to ban the sale of the devices, but a quick federal solution appears uncertain, since some experts say a ban would require congressional action.
Gaylor Baird said she prefers a more comprehensive federal approach. But "if the city can make it a little harder for someone to get their hands on bump stocks, that’s what we should do," she said.
The Legislature, nearing the end of its 2018 session, will not be dealing with the issue.
In his letter, Marvin addressed the issue of starting with local control.
"Some might say the city should not take the lead on firearms issues — that state or federal laws should cover firearms," he wrote. But city ordinances already address all types of weapons and make it illegal to possess a switchblade.
"Are we really OK with a law that prohibits a type of knife but is silent on a device that turns a gun into a machine gun?" Marvin asked.
Senators will get a first look Friday at the final recommendation on an $8.8 billion state budget that raised spending only a half-percent for the remainder of this fiscal year and next.
It was a good session for the Legislature's Appropriations Committee, said Chairman John Stinner of Gering, after the committee advanced three bills Thursday that senators will begin to debate Tuesday.
"I think we turned out a pretty good proposal. I think it's a fair and balanced proposal," he said. "I'm pretty proud of the committee, frankly."
A number of items in the budget are bound to lead to extended debate — cuts to higher education that some senators might want to increase or decrease, and an anti-abortion provision from Gov. Pete Ricketts related to federal Title X funding that some on the committee argued would hurt access to health care and family-planning services for women and men.
Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings predicted there would be challenges during the budget debate next week to the reduction in cuts to the University of Nebraska. He asked where the money needed to balance the budget comes from if not, in part, from the university.
"Does it come from Health and Human Services that provide a lot of the services to the most-vulnerable people in the state?" he said. "Where does it come from?"
Nobody on the committee got 100 percent of what they wanted by any stretch of the imagination, Stinner said, but the nine senators turned out a good budget.
Because of an uptick in state tax collections predicted by the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board, the committee was able to reduce cuts that had been recommended by Ricketts to the NU and state agencies, Stinner said.
He wasn't sure in January, he said, how much the rainy-day fund might be depleted by the end of the process. But with $296 million predicted to be left by the end of the 2019 fiscal year, it's in better shape than he thought it would be. The cash reserve was at $680.6 million in June 2017.
"That will be our big challenge as we move forward, rebuilding this cash reserve," he said.
That, he said, would mean adding about $450 million for the next business cycle, that cycle being based on the natural rise and fall of economic growth that occurs over time.
A number of challenges to doing that lie ahead, with deferred maintenance of state buildings needing about $600 million to $700 million, costs to address prison crowding and understaffing, tax reform, and the need to address Medicaid and provider rates.
The budget amounts presume a bill (LB1090), which advanced from first-round debate Thursday on a 38-0 vote, will offset income that could be gained by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in December.
Stinner said during its deliberations, the committee tried to take into account the cumulative effects on state agencies of budget cuts over two years.
"We shrunk the size of government," he said, with 500 fewer people and 1,500 vacancies and just enough money to cover existing salaries and health insurance costs. Much of the workforce reduction is the result of a hiring freeze by Ricketts, put into effect in October 2016.
The main budget bill (LB944) advanced with a unanimous 9-0 committee vote. Two other bills (LB945 and LB946) that are focused on the cash reserve and funding transfers had 8-1 votes, with Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell opposed to both. Kuehn was not available Thursday to discuss his opposition to those bills.