Trump confirms he sent letter to North Korea about cooperation on coronavirus
By Jennifer Hauser, CNN
Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT) March 23, 2020
(CNN)President Donald Trump confirmed Sunday that he sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un about cooperation on the novel coronavirus and offered assistance to North Korea, Iran and other countries that need help.
"On North Korea, Iran, and others, we are open for helping other countries. It is a very serious time. North Korea's going through something, Iran is going through something very, very strong," Trump said. "Iran is really going through a difficult period with respect to this as you know. I have put the -- it's really a glad hand, to North Korea, to Iran and to many other countries."
His confirmation comes after North Korea said Trump sent Kim a personal letter in which he expressed his willingness to help with "anti-epidemic work," according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency early Sunday.
In the letter, Trump "explained his plan to propel the relations between the two countries of the DPRK and the U.S. and expressed his intent to render cooperation in the anti-epidemic work, saying that he was impressed by the efforts made by the Chairman to defend his people from the serious threat of the epidemic," according to a statement from Kim Yo Jong, Kim's younger sister and first vice department director for WPK Central Committee, as reported by KCNA.
She also praised Trump's move as "good judgment and proper action" toward retaining a good relationship with the hermit nation at a time with what she referred to as "big difficulties and challenges."
"We regard it as a good judgment and proper action for the U.S. president to make efforts to keep the good relations he had with our Chairman by sending a personal letter again at a time as now when big difficulties and challenges lie in the way of developing the bilateral relations, and think that this should be highly estimated," she said.
In the past week, worldwide cases of the coronavirus nearly doubled, and there are now twice as many deaths.
More than 300,000 people have contracted the novel coronavirus and at least 12,944 have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. In the United States, more than 323 people have died from the virus.
US-North Korea relations
Last month, Trump told top foreign policy advisers that he does not want another summit with Kim before the presidential election in November, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.
Trump's last meeting with the North Korean dictator took place more than a year ago, and both leaders walked away empty-handed. Since then diplomacy -- aimed at achieving the denuclearization of North Korea -- has floundered, and as Trump focuses on his reelection campaign his appetite to engage on the issue has waned, according to the sources.
Trump expressed his frustration late last year after the first working-level talks between the two countries for eight months fell apart in October, sources explained. US negotiators believed they were making progress during the talks in Stockholm until the North Koreans claimed they broke down because the US had come "empty handed."
The two leaders have enjoyed a turbulent relationship since Trump has been in office. Prior to their historic first summit in 2018 Trump and Kim had traded threats and insults with the American President dubbing the North Korean leader a "little rocket man." But after meeting Kim in Singapore, the two seemed to strike up an unlikely friendship culminating in the President telling a rally in fall 2018 that they "fell in love."
In January, Trump sent a birthday message to Kim but his public comments on North Korea have been noticeably more muted.
On New Year's Eve, Trump reiterated that the leaders had a "good relationship," but also acknowledged that they may have divergent agendas.
"Look, he likes me; I like him. We get along. He's representing his country. I'm representing my country. We have to do what we have to do," Trump told reporters at Mar-A-Lago when he was asked about the Christmas gift promised by the North Koreans. That gift -- which the administration expected to be a missile launch of some sort -- never came.
Those working on Trump's reelection campaign do not believe North Korea is an issue crucial to the President winning a return to office.
It was also noticeable that Trump did not mention the country in his State of the Union speech.
Last year, he used the address to announce the second US-North Korea summit and in 2018 Trump invited a North Korean defector as one of his guests.
This story has been updated with Trump's confirmation that a letter was sent to North Korea.