It’s off – at least for now.
President Donald Trump says he has canceled his planned June 12 summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, blaming recent statements by Pyongyang.
“I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and, indeed, a setback for the world,” said the president in noontime remarks in the White House Roosevelt Room prior to signing an unrelated bill.
The president also warned that the military forces of the United States are “more ready than we have ever been before,” along with allies South Korea and Japan, should North Korea take any “foolish or reckless acts.”
Trump expressed hope that Pyongyang’s leadership would join the community of nations.
On Thursday morning the White House released a letter Trump wrote to Kim saying: “I was very much looking forward to being there with you. 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."
The “last straw,” according to a White House official, was an insult of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence earlier Thursday in a statement by North Korea’s vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui. She called Pence a “political dummy” and warned – in rhetoric typical of that uttered by Pyongyang — of a nuclear confrontation.
Trump in his letter, responded in kind, referencing U.S. nuclear capabilities “so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.”
The White House official says “there is a backdoor that's open still if the North Koreans are willing to walk through it. But it involves some changing of their rhetoric ... at a minimum.”
Until then, Trump emphasized in his on-camera remarks, sanctions and “the maximum pressure campaign will continue” to be applied on Pyongyang.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in hastily convened a middle-of-the-night meeting of his top security officials before expressing “deep regret” over the summit’s cancellation, urging direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang and adding that denuclearization of the Korean peninsula should not be delayed, according to the Blue House.
North Korea had threatened to pull out of the unprecedented summit after U.S. officials called for the so-called Libya model approach, which involved that African country’s total nuclear dismantlement before any concessions were granted.
Pyongyang has floating several proposals, including a gradual process linking early concessions to incremental denuclearization measures. It also quoted Kim a little more than a month ago saying the country’s nuclear weapons are a “treasured sword” that will be a “firm guarantee by which our descendants can enjoy the most dignified and happiest life in the world.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in Senate testimony on Thursday, said the North Koreans over the past several days had not responded to inquiries from the summit planners on the American side.
“We were fully, fully engaged over the past weeks to prepare for this meeting,” Pompeo replied to senators during questioning. “We were rockin.’”
Pompeo later added — when asked about his meetings in Pyongyang with Kim Jong Un on the subject of reaching a deal about complete North Korean denuclearization “there was little doubt in my mind that he understood the scope of what we were asking for.”
The secretary-general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, is expressing hope all the parties will have for “nerves of steel so that one can put in place a process of dialog capable of achieving our shared objective which must be peaceful denuclearization and verified denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
The Pentagon said Thursday it is ready to respond to any "provocative actions" from North Korea.
"We are in a boxer stance, we are ready to respond," Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, director of the US military's Joint Staff, told reporters.
A number of analysts tell VOA News there could still be a Trump-Kim summit soon.
“Don’t cancel your reservations for Singapore just yet,” former U.S. deputy secretary of state Anthony Blinken tells VOA’s Korean Service. “This is unlikely to be the final word. President Trump and Kim Jung Un are engaged in a high stakes game of chicken based on the shared assumption that the other wants and needs the summit more.”
According to Vipin Narang, associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “this is an inflection point in the administration policy toward North Korea.”
Narang, an author of two books on nuclear strategy, tells VOA News that “one camp may prefer to see if working level diplomacy can get things back on track, and maybe eventually get to a summit. Another camp may try to use this as evidence that diplomacy is doomed to fail, and that denuclearizing North Korea by force — attacking a nuclear weapons power — is the only remaining option.”
According to Narang, “if North Korea resumes long range missile or nuclear tests, it would sharply embolden and empower the latter camp. So, if Kim is truly interested in some deal — well short of disarmament obviously — his smartest move now is to exercise restraint.”
Trump has responded to North Korea in “a particularly ham-handed way,” according to John Feffer, the director of the Foreign Policy in Focus project at the Institute for Policy Studies. “Trump didn't just cancel the summit. He sent a veiled threat of using nuclear weapons. I hope this won't be his only opportunity to help resolve the conflict with North Korea.”