(ATTN: UPDATES with details; EDITS to conform paras 4, 12-16, 20-23; ADDS photos)
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.
It would be the first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.
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.
Trump tweeted his response shortly after the envoy's remarks.
"Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze," he wrote. "Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached.
"Meeting being planned!" he added.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump will accept the invitation to meet with Kim "at a place and time to be determined."
"We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea," she said. "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 actions."
A senior U.S. administration official echoed the call for sincerity.
"President Trump has been very clear from the beginning that he is not prepared to reward North Korea in exchange for talks," he told reporters on background, "but he is willing to accept an invitation at this time to meet and to allow, and really, he expects North Korea to start putting action to these words that were conveyed via the South Koreans."
Any future negotiations with the North will also have to include the subject of inspecting its nuclear facilities.
"At this point, we're not even talking about negotiations," the official said, noting the president has simply accepted an invitation to meet with Kim. "Obviously, verification goes hand in hand with any kind of acceptable deal for the permanent denuclearization of North Korea, and we will settle for nothing less than that outcome."
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