U.S. President Donald J. Trump, a day after his cancellation of a high-stakes summit with North Korea, said Friday that the meeting with Kim Jong-Un could still go ahead.
“We’re going to see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House, after welcoming Pyongyang’s latest statement on the talks as “very good news.” “It could even be the 12th,” he said in a reference to the original June 12 date set for the meeting in Singapore.
“We’re talking to them now,” Trump said of the North Koreans. “They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it. We’ll see what happens.”
Very good news to receive the warm and productive statement from North Korea. We will soon see where it will lead, hopefully to long and enduring prosperity and peace. Only time (and talent) will tell!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2018
North Korea, responding to Trump’s abrupt cancellation of the meeting over “hostility” from Pyongyang, said Friday that it is willing to talk to the United States “at any time.” Trump welcomed the statement as “warm and productive.”
“We will soon see where it will lead, hopefully to long and enduring prosperity and peace. Only time (and talent) will tell!” the U.S. president said in a tweet.
In a letter to Kim, Trump said Thursday he would not go ahead with the summit in Singapore, following what the White House called a “trail of broken promises” by the North. He blamed “open hostility” from Kim’s regime for his decision to call off the talks, and warned North Korea against committing any “foolish or reckless acts.” But Pyongyang’s reaction to the sudden U-turn has so far been conciliatory.
First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan called Trump’s decision “unexpected” and “regrettable.” But he left the door open for talks, saying officials were willing “to sit face-to-face at any time.”
Just before Trump announced the cancellation of the meeting, North Korea declared it had “completely” dismantled its nuclear test site in the country’s far northeast, in a carefully choreographed goodwill gesture ahead of the summit. But the chances of success for the unprecedented face-to-face had recently been thrown into doubt as threats were traded by both sides.
The U.S. summit cancellation blindsided treaty ally South Korea, which until now had brokered a remarkable detente between Washington and Pyongyang, with President Moon Jae-in calling the move “shocking and very regrettable.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said however he respected and supported the US president’s move.
China, Pyongyang’s sole major ally, urged the two foes to “show goodwill,” while U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the parties to keep talking, as did host Singapore, and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin held out hope the talks would eventually take place.
Trump’s announcement came a day after Pyongyang hardened its rhetoric, calling comments by Vice President Mike Pence “ignorant and stupid.”
“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” read Trump’s letter to Kim. But he said talks could still go ahead “at a later date.”
Politically, Trump had invested heavily in the success of the planned summit. As the date drew nearer, however, the gulf in expectations between the two sides became apparent.
Washington has made it clear it wants to see the “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of the North. But Pyongyang has vowed it will never give up its nuclear deterrent until it feels safe from what it terms U.S. aggression.
US Aides Stood Up
A senior White House official said Pyongyang had demonstrated a “profound lack of good faith” in the run-up to the summit — including standing up the White House’s deputy chief of staff, who had travelled to Singapore for preparatory talks.
The White House viewed North Korea’s objections to the latest U.S.-South Korean joint military exercise — and its recent cancellation of a meeting with the South Koreans — as a breach of its commitments leading up to the summit.
It also was unhappy about the North’s failure to allow international observers to verify the dismantling of the Punggye-ri test site, the staging ground for all six of its nuclear tests which was buried inside a mountain near the border with China.
But the North’s Kim Kye Gwan countered that Pyongyang’s angry statements were “just a backlash in response to harsh words from the U.S. side that has been pushing for a unilateral denuclearization.”
Both Pence and Trump’s hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton had raised the specter of Libyan leader Moamer Khadafi, who gave up atomic weapons only to die years later at the hands of US-backed rebels.
Experts warned that cancelling the meeting could have knock-on effects, especially among allies already rattled by Trump’s unpredictability.
“In a contest of who can be the most erratic leader, President Trump beats Kim Jong Un hands-down,” Joel Wit, founder of the respected 38 North website which monitors North Korea, wrote on Twitter.
“His unsteady hand has left everyone scratching their heads, including our ROK (South Korean) allies.”
But others said Trump’s willingness to walk away could extract further concessions from Pyongyang.
“North Korea will have to propose more detailed plans for denuclearization if it wants to talk in the future,” said Go Myong-hyun, an analyst at the Asan Institute of Policy Studies.