Trump Says `We'll Have to See' as Doubts Swirl on Kim Summit
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said North Korea hasn’t directly raised concerns about his proposed summit with its leader Kim Jong Un, after the country threatened through its state-run news agency to pull out of the meeting.
“We haven’t been notified at all,” Trump said Wednesday during a meeting with Uzbekistan’s president at the White House, in response to questions from reporters about whether the summit would go on. “We’ll have to see.”
North Korea’s vice foreign minister and a top disarmament negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, said in a statement published Wednesday by the state-run Korean Central News Agency that Kim’s regime felt “repugnance” toward National Security Adviser John Bolton and rejected a “Libya model” in which the country quickly surrenders its nuclear weapons.
“If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit,” Kim said. He added that Trump risked becoming a “more tragic and unsuccessful president than his predecessors” if he didn’t accept North Korea as a nuclear power.
Asked if he would continue to insist North Korea denuclearize, Trump said “yes.” The White House said it was proceeding with planning for the landmark meeting.
“He’ll be there, and he’ll be ready" White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of Trump in a Fox News interview Wednesday, adding that North Korea’s threat to back out of talks isn’t out of the ordinary amid heated discussions between adversaries.
“We’re ready to meet, and if it happens that’s great, but if it doesn’t we’ll see what happens,” she said. “If it doesn’t we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign that has been ongoing.”
China, North Korea’s top trading partner and ally, called on both sides to “avoid further provocation.”
“The amelioration of the situation on the Korean Peninsula is hard won and should be cherished,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing.
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Trump’s planned June 12 summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore is shaping up to be one of the biggest foreign policy tests of the Trump administration. It comes after a year in which the two countries’ leaders traded personal insults and threats of war as North Korea ramped up its tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs.
Tensions have risen in recent weeks over the steps needed for the U.S. to ease sanctions against North Korea: The Trump administration wants Kim to give up his weapons before getting anything in return, while the regime favors a more phased approach.
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“The original conflict of interests endures,” said Van Jackson, a strategy fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, and a former U.S. Department of Defense adviser. “The bottom line is that Kim isn’t going to give up nukes, and the reason is pessimism; it’s that North Korea has no theory of its own security without nukes.”
Earlier Wednesday, North Korea abruptly canceled talks with South Korea and warned the U.S. to “think twice” about the Trump summit. The moves undercut the optimism after Kim agreed to discuss his nuclear weapons program in a first-of-its-kind meeting.
Seoul’s financial markets took the threats in stride, with traders viewing it as a negotiating tactic on the part of the North Korean leader. The benchmark Kospi index gained 0.2 percent, while the won parred the day’s loss to 0.3 percent, after weakening as much as 0.8 percent earlier.
The comments from Kim Kye Gwan indicated broader dissatisfaction with the U.S. approach to talks, and Bolton’s comparisons to Libya in particular. The national security adviser, who advocated a military strike on North Korea before joining the administration last month, has described a denuclearization deal similar to one in which Libya allowed its weapons to be packed up and shipped to the U.S. in return for sanctions relief.
The comparison only underscores the fears of the Kim regime, which views nuclear weapons as insurance against any U.S.-led military action. Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi was brutally killed by NATO-backed rebels two years after the last remnants of his nuclear program were removed.
“Our country is neither Libya nor Iraq, which have met a miserable fate,” Kim Kye Gwan said. “It is absolutely absurd to dare compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya, which had been at the initial stage of nuclear development.”
The earlier KCNA report announcing the decision to “indefinitely” suspend talks with South Korea cited the allies’ “Max Thunder” military drills and other “improper acts” by authorities in Seoul. “There is a limit in showing goodwill and offering opportunity,” the report said.
North Korea has in recent weeks issued repeated complaints about Trump administration efforts to maintain its “maximum pressure” campaign against the regime in the run up to the meeting. The KCNA statement specifically cited the deployment of B-52 bombers, which are capable of carrying nuclear bombs, and F-22 fighter jets as evidence of threatening behavior by the U.S.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Wednesday that the U.S. won’t send B-52 bombers for the military drills, citing unidentified local military and government officials. The South Korean Ministry of National Defense said in a text message that the allies would proceed with the exercises as planned.
Colonel Rob Manning, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement that the exercises now underway are annual drills aimed at maintaining “a foundation of military readiness.” He said the drills’ defensive nature “has been clear for many decades and has not changed.”
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