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Trump, Xi Jinping talk about North Korea ahead of Kim Jong-un meeting

US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke on the phone on Friday about North Korea, the White House said just one day after revealing Trump had accepted an invitation to meet in person with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Trump and Xi discussed "recent developments related to North Korea," the White House noted in a summary of the phone call.

"The two leaders welcomed the prospect of dialogue between the United States and North Korea, and committed to maintain pressure and sanctions until North Korea takes tangible steps toward complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization," the White House said. "President Trump expressed his hope that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un might choose a brighter path for North Korea's future."

Xi urged the US and North Korea to begin talks as "soon as possible" in the phone call with his American counterpart, China's official Xinhua News Agency said.

Xi praised the "positive aspiration" of US President Trump to achieve a political settlement of the Korean peninsula issue, Xinhua added.

"I hope the United States and North Korea can start to get in touch and dialogue as soon as possible, and strive to obtain positive achievements," said Xi, according to Xinhua.

"We hope that all relevant parties can make positive gestures and refrain from actions that prevent the situation on the Korean peninsula from calming down," Xi was quoted by China's state-run broadcaster CCTV as saying.

Xi and Trump also discussed the development of the Sino-US relations, and both leaders said the two nations had to properly manage their disputes, CCTV reported.

Trump on Thursday agreed to a historic meeting with Kim - the first ever meeting between a US president and a North Korean leader - by May, in a stunning development in America's high-stakes nuclear standoff with North Korea.

It comes after South Korea's envoy who returned from the North earlier this week said Pyongyang had offered to hold denuclearization talks in return for security guarantees.

North Korea also agreed to hold a historic summit between its leader Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in late April.

Chung Eui-yong, head of South Korea's presidential National Security Office, said in Washington on Friday that Kim wanted to meet Trump as "soon as possible" and that Trump said "he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization" of the Korean peninsula.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later confirmed Chung's comments.

She said Trump would "meet with Kim Jong-un at a place and time to be determined. "We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea," Sanders said. "In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain."

Despite the softer tone coming from North Korea, Sigal Mandelker, the undersecretary for the US Treasury, which administers sanctions, repeated that the maximum pressure campaign against Pyongyang would remain in place.

The US has an opportunity to "test North Korean sincerity" about removing nuclear weapons, Mandelker said at an Atlantic Council event on Friday, noting that Pyongyang has failed to deliver on such overtures in the past.

Nuclear experts continued to urge the Trump administration to treat cautiously Kim's professed interest in holding direct talks with the US.

Trump's North Korea strategy has focused heavily on persuading China to leverage its influence in Pyongyang to persuade the Kim regime against pursuing nuclear weapons.

Under pressure from Trump, Beijing has backed a series of United Nations sanctions against North Korea, sending relations between the Cold War-era allies to a new low.

Beijing has repeatedly called for negotiations to peacefully put an end to tensions that have raised fears of nuclear warfare, after months of fiery rhetoric between Kim and Trump.

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