Donald Trump: I would be honoured to meet Kim Jong Un
President Donald Trump has opened the door to a future meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, offering unusual praise for the globally ostracised leader at a time of surging nuclear tensions.
Although the White House played down near-term prospects for such a meeting, Mr Trump's conciliatory comments marked a departure from his more unforgiving tone towards the North in recent days.
It marked the latest fluctuation as Mr Trump's administration struggles to articulate its policy for addressing the growing threat from North Korea's nuclear programme.
"If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honoured to do it," Mr Trump told Bloomberg News.
Clearly aware of the power of his declaration, he added: "We have breaking news."
As a presidential candidate, Mr Trump suggested he was open to meeting Kim, but had not repeated the line since taking office.
Fresh missile tests by the North and its progress towards developing a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States have made the isolated communist dictatorship one of America's top national security concerns.
Deeming president Barack Obama's "strategic patience" with North Korea a total failure, Mr Trump and his aides say they are taking a more aggressive approach, at times warning of potential military confrontation if the North does not change course.
The US has even raised the possibility of a pre-emptive strike if Pyongyang conducts another nuclear test.
Yet on other occasions, Mr Trump's administration has dangled carrots.
It has spoken of restarting negotiations with the North and even suggested resuming food aid to North Korea once it starts dismantling its nuclear and missile programmes.
On one point, at least, Mr Trump and his team have been consistently clear: A solution requires China, the North's biggest economic partner.
Mr Trump is hoping China can pressure the North into a peaceful denuclearisation.
The Obama administration unsuccessfully sought the same objective for years.
Mr Trump's suggestion of admiration for Kim, however, is something entirely new.
He noted that Kim assumed office in his 20s and has held power despite efforts by "a lot of people" to take it away.
"So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie," Mr Trump told CBS's Face The Nation in an interview that aired on Sunday.
Tasked with explaining Mr Trump's flattery, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said there would be no meeting with the secretive North Korean leader until circumstances were right and numerous conditions met.
He said Kim should have to alter his government's behaviour and "show signs of good faith".
"Clearly, conditions are not there right now," Mr Spicer said.
But echoing Mr Trump's gentler tone, Mr Spicer said Kim had "managed to lead a country forward" from a young age.
He did not mention that under Kim, North Korea's government remains strictly authoritarian and dissent is not tolerated.
Much of the country is impoverished and malnourished.
The US maintains no diplomatic relations with North Korea and the two countries are technically at war, as the 1950-1953 Korean conflict ended without a peace treaty.
The North makes no secret of its intention to develop a nuclear weapons system capable of striking the US mainland.
In recent weeks, North Korea has conducted major military drills, test-fired missiles in violation of UN resolutions and taken preparatory steps towards a fifth nuclear test, steps that have fuelled growing US concerns and prompted Mr Trump to send an aircraft carrier to the area.
Mr Trump's musings about a potential meeting with Kim came as his CIA director, Mike Pompeo, was in South Korea, where tens of millions of people live within artillery range of the northern border.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson chaired a UN Security Council meeting last week and urged countries to ramp up sanctions and suspend diplomatic ties with the North to increase pressure.