‘They stood us up’: White House says it cancelled Kim Jong-un meeting because North Korea refused to talk – despite Donald Trump’s earlier claims
A US official said the White House ‘waited and waited’ for a response on meetings about the summit planned for next month, but that none came – although Trump said the summit was cancelled over North Korea’s ‘tremendous anger and open hostility’
US President Donald Trump cancelled a planned meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un on Thursday because Pyongyang refused to reply to White House requests to help organise the event, among other “broken promises” in the run-up to the summit, a senior White House official said.
“They waited and they waited. The North Koreans never showed up. They simply stood us up,” the official said, referring to coordinating sessions planned to take place in Singapore last week. The summit had been scheduled for Singapore on June 12.
North Korea responded early on its Friday morning, saying the government was still “open” to a meeting, and would work with the US “at any time, in any way”.
The remarks by the White House official about the missed meetings in Singapore differ from an open letter released by Trump earlier on Thursday, in which he blamed North Korea’s “tremendous anger and open hostility” for the cancellation, which came just after Pyongyang said it had destroyed a key nuclear test site as a demonstration of goodwill.
I have decided to terminate the planned Summit in Singapore on June 12th. While many things can happen and a great opportunity lies ahead potentially, I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and indeed a setback for the world... pic.twitter.com/jT0GfxT0Lc
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2018
“We were informed that the meeting was requested by North Korea, but that to us is totally irrelevant. I was very much looking forward to being there with you,” Trump said in the 161-word letter.
“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.
“You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they never have to be used.”
Trump later tweeted a copy of the letter, saying he was “sadly … forced” to cancel the summit. He posted the letter a second time an hour later, as he had misspelled the leader’s name as “Kim Jung Un” in his initial tweet.
“We had set in high regards President Trump’s efforts, unprecedented by any other president, to create a historic North Korea-US summit,” responded North Korea’s vice-foreign minister, Kim Kye-gwan, in a statement released by the North’s central news agency, according to Reuters.
“We tell the United States once more that we are open to resolving problems at any time in any way,” he added.
Asked what factor weighed more heavily in Trump’s decision to cancel the summit – North Korean officials’ failure to show up in Singapore or the “open hostility” – the White House official said a verbal attack by a senior North Korean official on US Vice-President Mike Pence “wasn’t helpful”.
South Korea’s presidential office expressed confusion over Trump’s motives after the announcement. Spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters, “[We] are trying to figure out what President Trump’s intention is and the exact meaning of it,” Yonhap News Agency said.
The meeting between Trump and Kim had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that it would happen as planned, even as he began to express doubts about the preparations.
Inability to agree on the content of the discussions or what the two sides would agree to likely contributed to Trump’s move on Thursday, said Thomas Byrne, president of the New York-based Korea Society.
“Trump never had the intention of just going into the room in Singapore with Kim Jong-un with a blank piece of paper and filling in right there what would be agreed to,” Byrne said in an interview with South China Morning Post.
“A lot of the diplomats and analysts were very much concerned because this seemed to be a very unorthodox way of negotiating. It was very top down instead of bottom up,” Byrne added.
Trump announced the change of plan shortly after North Korea said on Thursday that it had completely dismantled its Punggye-ri nuclear test ground, a move meant to “ensure the transparency of discontinuance of nuclear tests”.
Punggye-ri has been the staging ground for all six of the North’s nuclear tests, including its latest and most powerful one in September last year, which Pyongyang said was an H-bomb.
Explosions detonated within the site on Thursday, witnessed by a group of foreign journalists, failed to convince US officials that the area could no longer support nuclear testing.
US and South Korean negotiators “were promised by the North Koreans that international experts and officials would be invited to witness and verify today’s demolition. That promise was broken,” the White House official said.
“Instead, journalists were invited and we will not have forensic evidence that much was accomplished. It’s possible that the tunnels were detonated in a way that will still allow them to be used in the future.”
The break in direct diplomatic contact means the “full implementation of the maximum pressure doctrine” against North Korea would continue, Pompeo said in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting that started shortly after the White House announcement.
“Congress and the executive branch should work together to do everything we can to continue the campaign to” end the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, he said in a scheduled hearing on the State Department’s budget request.
He added: “In some ways it's situation normal – the pressure campaign continues.”
Despite Trump blaming North Korea’s “tremendous anger”, Pompeo said the US pulled out of the meeting after Pyongyang failed to respond to repeated requests from US officials to discuss logistics, saying, “We had received no response to our inquiries from them.”
He added that he did not consider Kim to be a “weak leader” and that he had shown “enormous capacity” to lead North Korea.
Pompeo also remarked that he had seen no evidence that China had relaxed any of its sanctions on North Korea. The hearing had been scheduled to discuss the State Department’s budget request.
In the wake of the cancellation of the talks, the Pentagon said it was 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.
“We’ll see what develops over the next few days. If any provocative actions occur from [North Korea], we will certainly, in concert with our allies and partners in the region, be ready for it.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said at a joint briefing with McKenzie that the Pentagon was part of the US “maximum pressure” campaign against Pyongyang, adding: “We are ready to fight tonight. That’s always been the case.”
After the cancellation, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that Trump’s decision worried him.
“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, and I urge the parties to continue their dialogue to find a path to a peaceful and verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” Guterres said as he presented a new UN disarmament agenda in Geneva.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, also said that the US must continue to work with its allies toward a “peaceful resolution” with North Korea, but added that a resolution would require greater seriousness from Kim.
The cancellation of the historic meeting undoes months of planning that started after North Korea sent a government delegation that included Kim’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong to the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Pompeo followed up by visiting Pyongyang twice to lay the groundwork for a meeting with Trump.
Doubts about the meeting had begun to emerge in recent days as both Washington and Pyongyang traded barbs. Earlier on Thursday, the North called Pence a “political dummy” and said it was just as ready to meet in a nuclear confrontation as at the negotiating table.
Pyongyang was responding to Pence’s claim that North Korea could end up like Libya without a deal. The vice-president made the remarks – which echoed Trump’s own comments, and followed similar statements from hawkish national security adviser John Bolton – in an interview with Fox News.
Libya’s long-time dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, agreed to end his chemical and nuclear weapons programmes in 2003 but was overthrown and killed in a Western-backed uprising after the Arab Spring of 2011.
During Pompeo’s hearing, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticised Trump, saying that the White House’s withdrawal from the planned talks showed that “the art of diplomacy is a lot harder than the art of the deal.”
He added that it was “pretty amazing” that Trump’s Republican administration would be shocked that North Korea “is acting as North Korea might very well normally act.”
Menendez added: “I’m not sure that constantly quoting the Libya model is the diplomatic way to try to get to the results that we seek in North Korea because that didn’t work out too well for Gaddafi.”
China had been supportive the Trump-Kim summit because Washington and Beijing both want to prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear-armed country.
“China firmly supports the meeting between the United States and the DPRK leaders,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Wednesday in a joint press conference with Pompeo in Washington.
“Contact and dialogue between the leaders is key to addressing the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula. We look forward to seeing the meeting take place as scheduled and be successful,” Wang said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Kim twice in little more than a month after Pyongyang’s detente with South Korea and the US, which started during the Olympics in February, with China consistently stressing the need for denuclearisation and Kim appearing to agree in principle.
However, that understanding might not have been as clear as the two sides had portrayed it.
“The Chinese understood North Korea’s concept of denuclearisation to be something akin to cutting off a weed by the surface instead of pulling it up by the roots, and the Chinese wanted the North Koreans to pull up by the roots and take everything out, as did the Americans and the South Koreans,” the Korea Society’s Byrne said.
“That might have been an obstacle.”
This report contains additional information by Agence France-Presse.