Washington, D. C. — United States President Donald Trump on Thursday abruptly canceled his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, blaming “tremendous anger and open hostility” by Pyongyang – a decision North Korea called “regrettable” while still holding out hope for “peace and stability.”
In a letter to Kim announcing his decision to back away from the June 12 summit, Trump pointed to America’s vast military might and warned the rising nuclear power against any “foolish or reckless acts.”
The letter kicked off a day of mixed messages by the president, who declared hours later, “I really believe Kim Jong Un wants to do what’s right.”
After that, a senior White House official said the North lacked judgment and had reneged on its promises ahead of the summit. Trump said from the White House that a “maximum pressure campaign” of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation would continue against North Korea – with which the US is technically still at war – but he added that it was possible the summit could still take place at some point.
North Korea issued a statement Friday saying it is still “willing to give the U.S. time and opportunities” to reconsider talks “at any time, at any format.”
Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan called Trump’s decision “unexpected” and “very regrettable,” and said the cancellation of the talks shows “how grave the status of historically deep-rooted hostile North Korea-U.S. relations is and how urgently a summit should be realized to improve ties.”
Kim insisted North Korea’s “objective and resolve to do our best for the sake of peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and all humankind remain unchanged.”
Trump’s surprise exit capped weeks of high-stakes brinkmanship between the two unpredictable leaders over nuclear negotiating terms for their unprecedented sit-down. The US announcement came not long after Kim appeared to make good on his promise to demolish his country’s nuclear test site. But it also followed escalating frustration — and newly antagonistic rhetoric — from North Korea over comments from Trump aides about US expectations for the North’s “denuclearization.”
The senior US official said the North violated a pledge to allow international inspectors to monitor the supposed implosion of the site Thursday. International journalists were present, but the US government can’t verify the site’s destruction. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid overshadowing Trump’s comments Thursday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a staunch Kim ally, said the North Korean leader had in fact done “everything that he had promised in advance, even blowing up the tunnels and shafts” of his country’s nuclear testing site. Putin said of Trump’s announcement, “In Russia we took this news with regret.”
Putin held out hope that the dialogue would resume and the talks would eventually take place.
Trump, in his letter to Kim, objected specifically to a statement from a top North Korean Foreign Ministry official. That statement referred to Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy” for his comments on the North and said it was up to the Americans whether they would “meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”
Underscoring the high stakes, Trump said he had spoken with military leaders, as well as Japan and South Korea, and stressed that the United States was prepared for any threat.
Still, Trump’s announcement appeared to surprise South Korea, which had pushed to keep the summit on track as recently as Tuesday, when President Moon Jae-in met with Trump in the Oval Office and said the “fate and the future” of the Korean Peninsula hinged on the talks. The Blue House said Thursday that it was trying to figure out Trump’s intentions in canceling the summit.
Wrote Trump: “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write.”
The decision blindsided treaty ally South Korea, which until now had brokered a remarkable detente between Washington and Pyongyang.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in called the move “shocking and very regrettable’’ as he scrambled his national security team.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said Seoul would continue talking to Kim’s regime which he believed “remains sincere in implementing the agreement and making efforts on denuclearization and peace building.”
Japan said it would maintain “close cooperation’’ with the United States and South Korea.
Keep talking – UN
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the parties to keep talking, as did host Singapore.
“I am deeply concerned by the cancellation of the planned meeting in Singapore between the President of the United States and the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Guterres said as he presented the UN’s new agenda on disarmament in Geneva.
“I urge the parties to continue their dialogue to find a path to a peaceful and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” he added.
“But I am asking the two parties to demonstrate nerves of steel so that we can … (obtain) an objective we all share: the verifiable and peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
In his speech, Guterres pointed out that around 15,000 nuclear weapons remain in stockpiles around the world, and that “hundreds are ready to be launched within minutes.”
“We are one mechanical, electronic or human error away from a catastrophe that could eradicate entire cities from the map,” he warned.