Trump: I would be honoured to meet Kim Jong-un

US president says he would meet North Korean leader ‘under the right circumstances’

Donald Trump: his comments came days after he alarmed some international allies by inviting Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte to the White House. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

US president Donald Trump has said he would be "honoured" to meet the leader of North Korea "under the right circumstances," a day after he described Kim Jong-un as a "pretty smart cookie".

The White House issued a statement after the president’s remarks, clarifying that North Korea would have to meet certain conditions if the two leaders were to meet, with press secretary Sean Spicer stating: “Clearly conditions are not there right now.”

Mr Trump’s comments came days after he alarmed some international allies by inviting Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte to the White House. Mr Duterte, who previously said he had killed people and has faced accusations of human rights abuses, was invited to Washington by Mr Trump during a phone call on Saturday night.

Mr Trump also spoke with Thailand’s prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former general who took power in a 2014 coup.

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Mr Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, dismissed suggestions that the White House was ignoring human rights concerns. The president’s call to Mr Duterte “doesn’t mean that human rights don’t matter, but what it does mean is that the issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need co-operation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure we have our ducks in a row,” he said.

Faced criticism

Mr Trump faced criticism last month for giving Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi a warm reception in the White House. The Egyptian president, who overthrew his predecessor in a coup in 2013, had been effectively banned at the White House by president Barack Obama amid concern about human rights abuses.

Meanwhile as the US president marked his 100th day in office at the weekend, the US Congress reached a deal to maintain government funding until September, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown.

Following intensive weekend negotiations, senior Republicans and Democrats signed up to a new $1 trillion budget, but the White House was forced to drop its insistence on funding for the promised wall on the southern border.

The agreement, which is expected to be endorsed by both chambers in Congress, includes an extra $1.5 billion for border security.

But Democrats have secured guarantees that this will not be channelled towards the proposed wall. While construction has not started on the wall, contracts have been advertised for its construction. The government’s own estimate is that the final cost of the wall could be more than $21 billion.

While funding for healthcare had formed part of the budget discussions, a late Republican push to hold a vote on an amended version of the American Health Care Act, the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, did not materialise. However, there are signs that a vote could take place this week.

Embarrassing climbdown

The White House was forced into an embarrassing climbdown in March when it failed to garner sufficient Republican support for a replacement healthcare Bill, after a core group of conservative Republicans, known as the Freedom Caucus withdrew its support.

But amid signs that the group is prepared to back an amended version there is expectation that a vote could be imminent.

Mr Trump raised eyebrows when he said in an interview with CBS on Sunday that people with pre-existing conditions would be included in the plan. His comments appear to be at odds to commitments from other key Republicans which suggest that states will be permitted to opt out of rules prohibiting insurance providers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

With the Trump administration pushing through a raft of executive orders in the days preceding his 100th day in office, focus is now turning to Mr Trump’s more long-term plan for the presidency.

The president said on Monday that he would consider increasing the tax on gasoline as a way of funding his promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent