President Donald Trump’s advisers on Sunday argued that his surprise decision to agree to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was less impulsive than it appeared to U.S. allies and members of Congress. The advisers, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, said the administration had laid the groundwork for talks with Mr. Kim by imposing tougher economic sanctions than previous administrations on the North Korean government.
“I do believe a major reason why they’re having this meeting is because the economic sanctions have had a very big impact on both their economy and their ability to get pieces of material and other things they need for their weapons programs,” Mr. Mnuchin said Sunday, speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press. Mr. Pompeo accused previous presidential administrations of “whistling past the graveyard” as the North Korean government advanced its nuclear weapons program, and said on CBS’s Face the Nation that the Trump administration’s sanctions prompted Kim Jong Un to seek a meeting with Mr. Trump.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has levied new sanctions and put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, from which it was removed in 2008 by then-President George W. Bush in an effort to bring the North Koreans to the negotiating table. The remarks by Mr. Trump’s cabinet officials suggested the president’s surprise decision to agree to meet with Mr. Kim had been made in line with a broader strategy of combating the North Korean nuclear threat. Mr. Trump abruptly agreed to the meeting on Thursday, telling a stunned delegation of South Korean officials, “Tell him yes,” the Journal previously reported.