(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with White House statement, details, background)
WASHINGTON, March 8 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have agreed to meet by May to discuss the denuclearization of the regime, a South Korean envoy said Thursday.
South Korea's national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters at the White House that Trump told him he would accept Kim's invitation to meet with him as soon as possible.
The announcement comes after a year of tensions over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs that led to an exchange of fiery rhetoric between Trump and Kim.
Kim said he is "committed to denuclearization" and will "refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests," said Chung, who led a five-member presidential delegation to a meeting with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang on Monday.
"President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization," the envoy said.
The Koreans' meeting was the first of its kind since Kim took power in late 2011. The two sides also agreed to hold their first summit in more than a decade in April.
Chung said he expressed to Trump in their meeting earlier in the day South Korean President Moon Jae-in's "personal gratitude" for his leadership on the North Korea issue.
"His leadership and his maximum pressure policy together with international solidarity brought us to this juncture," Chung said.
The Trump administration has led a campaign of "maximum pressure" involving increased economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation to force Pyongyang to come to the negotiation table.
Last year the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted three sets of sanctions in response to North Korea's sixth and most powerful nuclear test, as well as three tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
"President Trump greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and President Moon," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. "He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un at a place and time to be determined. We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain."
Chung said in Seoul earlier this week that Kim was willing to discuss the regime's denuclearization with the U.S. if its security could be guaranteed. Skeptics pointed to the North's track record of breaking past denuclearization agreements and said it remained to be seen what the North would demand in return for dismantling the nuclear weapons program.
North Korea has in the past demanded the abolition of joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises that it sees as dress rehearsals for an invasion and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the South.
"(Kim) understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue," Chung said. "The Republic of Korea, the United States and our partners stand together in insisting that we not repeat the mistakes of the past and that the pressure will continue until North Korea matches its words with concrete action."
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