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President Trump on Monday said he would be "honored" to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, only days after he raised the possibility of a "major, major conflict" with the reclusive state over its nuclear weapons program.
Though White House aides separately downplayed the likelihood of an unprecedented face-to-face meeting between a U.S. president and North Korean leader, Trump said he "would absolutely" consider it "under the right circumstances."
"Most political people would never say that," Trump told Bloomberg News during an interview in the Oval Office, calling his own remark "breaking news."
The comment was the latest from Trump striking a more conciliatory tone in what had seemed an escalating standoff over North Korea's stepped-up missile tests and nuclear ambitions. In a CBS interview aired Sunday, Trump called Kim a "pretty smart cookie," seeming to credit him for retaining control of the country at a young age after the death of his father.
Asked how Trump could say he would be "honored" to meet with the leader of a ruthlessly repressive government, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the president understands the threat North Korea poses.
"There is a diplomatic piece to this," Spicer said, adding that "the bottom line is the president is going to do what he has to do."
Spicer echoed Trump's apparent praise for Kim, saying he had "managed to lead a country forward despite the obvious concerns that we and so many other people have." But he said many conditions would have to be met in order for Trump to agree to a meeting with Kim.
"We've got to see their provocative behavior ratcheted down," he said.
Earlier Monday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, speaking to CBS, seemed to rule out the prospect of a meeting unless Kim "was willing to disarm and give up what he's put in mountainsides across his country and give up his drive for nuclear capability and ICBMs."
Vice President Mike Pence, also appearing on CBS' "This Morning," said the administration was "not going to negotiate to get at the negotiating table." He reflected on his own recent visit to the demilitarized zone at the border dividing North and South Korea, calling it "chilling" to "look into a nation living under that kind of oppressive regime."
"North Korea knows through U.N. actions in the past, through pronouncements by the world community, they need to abandon their nuclear program, abandon their ballistic missile program, they need to stand down in a very real sense to have the right to engage the world community on the way forward," Pence said.
Also Monday, Spicer defended Trump's decision to extend an invitation for a White House meeting to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has presided over a violent crackdown on drug-related crime that human rights groups say has left more than 7,000 people dead.
Spicer said the administration was aware of human rights concerns, but said Trump sees "an opportunity for us to work with countries in that region that can help play a role in diplomatically and economically isolating North Korea."
"The national interests of the United States, the safety of our people and the safety of people in the region are the No. 1 priorities of the president," he said.