WASHINGTON/SEOUL: US President Donald Trump dangled the possibility on Friday that a June 12 summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un could still take place, just a day after he cancelled the meeting citing Pyongyang’s “open hostility.”
Trump indicated the summit could be salvaged after welcoming a conciliatory statement from North Korea saying it remained open to talks.
“It was a very nice statement they put out,” Trump said as he left the White House to deliver a commencement address at the US Naval Academy. “We’ll see what happens — it could even be the 12th.
“We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it.”
After years of tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme, Kim and Trump agreed this month to hold what would be the first meeting between a serving US president and a North Korean leader. The plan followed months of war threats and insults between the leaders over North Korea’s development of missiles capable of reaching the United States.
Trump scrapped the meeting, planned for Singapore, in a letter to Kim on Thursday after repeated threats by North Korea to pull out over what it saw as confrontational remarks by US officials demanding its unilateral disarmament. Trump cited North Korean hostility in cancelling the summit.
In Pyongyang, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said North Korea’s criticisms of certain US officials had been a reaction to American rhetoric and that the current antagonism showed “the urgent necessity” for the summit.
“His sudden and unilateral announcement to cancel the summit is something unexpected to us and we cannot but feel great regret for it,” Kim Kye Gwan said of Trump in a statement on state media.
He said North Korea remained open to resolving issues with Washington “regardless of ways, at any time.”
Trump’s latest about-face sent officials scrambling in Washington. US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters diplomats were “still at work” and said Trump had just sent a note out on the summit, which could be back on “if our diplomats can pull it off.”
US State Department spokeswoman Katina Adams declined to give details of any diplomatic contacts but said: “As the president said in his letter to Chairman Kim, dialogue between the two is the only dialogue that matters. If North Korea is serious, then we look forward hearing from them at the highest levels.”
North Korea had sharply criticised suggestions by Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, and Vice- President Mike Pence that it could share the fate of Libya if it did not swiftly surrender its nuclear arsenal. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed by Nato-backed militants after halting his nascent nuclear programme. Kim Kye Gwan said North Korea appreciated Trump having made the bold decision to work towards a summit.
“We even inwardly hoped that what is called ‘Trump formula’ would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue,” he said.
Trump had initially sought to placate North Korea, saying he was not pursuing the “Libya model.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “This is the President Trump model.”
US regional allies Japan and South Korea, as well as North Korea’s main ally, China, urged the two countries to salvage the summit on Friday.
At an economic forum in St Petersburg, Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan said it was necessary to ensure security on the Korean peninsula, which touched on China’s core interests. — Reuters