WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump responded to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's latest threats, saying Tuesday that he has a "much bigger and more powerful" nuclear button.
Trump's remark on Twitter came after Kim warned the U.S. on Monday that the nuclear button "is always on my desk." The North Korean leader called his nuclear deterrent "irreversible" and claimed it would prevent Trump from starting a war.
"Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!" Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday night.
Earlier in the day, Trump claimed that his efforts to pressure North Korea were having a "big impact" as Kim proposed talks with South Korea on sending a North Korean delegation to the winter Olympic Games next month.
Seoul proposed holding talks with Pyongyang on Jan. 9, which would be the first formal meeting between them since 2015.
Kim's olive branch to South Korea was one of the most promising peace overtures since Trump took office. The U.S. president has increased sanctions against North Korea and threatened to use military action to dismantle the regime's nuclear weapons program.
"Sanctions and 'other' pressures are beginning to have a big impact on North Korea," Trump wrote on Twitter. "Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not -- we will see!"
Trump administration officials sidestepped questions about how they squared South Korea's willingness to meet with the U.S. position that Kim must first demonstrate a readiness to pause, if not abandon, his efforts to build a nuclear arsenal that can hit the U.S. mainland.
"We are very skeptical of Kim Jong Un's sincerity in sitting down and having talks," State Department spokesman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said "our policy hasn't changed at all."
South Korea coordinated with the U.S. before making its proposal to North Korea, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told reporters in Seoul on Tuesday. In addition to clearing the way for North Korea's participation in the Olympics, Seoul wanted to use the opportunity to rebuild overall relations, he said.
Many obstacles remain to a deal that could prompt North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Past efforts at dialogue have failed, and the U.S. has said it will never accept North Korea as a nuclear power.
Still, the possibility of talks reduces the odds of a military conflict, which had seemed more probable as North Korea tested weapons and Trump issued threats. While Kim claims to have the capability to strike anywhere in the U.S. with a nuclear weapon, analysts say it's unclear if his regime yet has a warhead that could survive re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere and target specific locations.
(Kong reported from Seoul and Talev from Washington. Peter Martin, Jennifer Epstein and Nick Wadhams contributed to this story.)
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