Donald Trump thought Kim Jong Un was going to cancel their June date — so he quickly nixed it himself, according to a report published Friday.
The cancellation, announced Thursday in a three paragraph letter to "his excellency" Kim, came after Trump and his advisers deliberated on the issue for less than 12 hours, according to NBC, citing multiple unnamed officials.
The letter, which noted North Korea’s “tremendous anger and open hostility” as reasons for the withdrawal, came after Pyongyang had itself repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the meeting — and according to officials, Trump didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.
Coming after a two-hour round of phone calls Thursday morning, the sudden decision blindsided the administration’s opponents and allies alike. No head’s up was given to congressional leaders or key stakeholders such as South Korea, whose President Moon Jae-in called an emergency meeting in the middle of the night and later said he was “very perplexed” by the move. As a U.S. official told NBC, there had been “no hint of” the decision just a day earlier.
While Trump’s letter to Kim contained a barely veiled threat about Washington’s “massive and powerful” nuclear arsenal, it also left the door open to future talks, with Trump saying that “some day I look very much forward to meeting you.”
North Korea responded Friday, expressing its “great regret” at the cancellation and saying it too was open to talks — and even noting its appreciation of Trump’s efforts to resolve the issues between their countries.
“We have inwardly highly appreciated President Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other U.S. presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit,” North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a statement reported in state media.
“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.”
Kim said Pyongyang remained open to resolving the issues between the U.S. and North Korea “regardless of ways, at any time,” and said the tensions between the countries highlighted “the urgent necessity” for such a summit.
For all the diplomatic niceties, analysts are concerned that the decision to scrap the historic summit — less than three weeks before it was due to be held in Singapore, and after winning concessions from Kim — only raises the risks of a potentially catastrophic miscalculation in a game of chicken between two nuclear powers.
Some believe North Korea, whose diplomatic stock-in-trade is brinkmanship and provocation, could resume its activities including missile tests or cyberattacks, fueling a renewed escalation in hostilities.
Trump’s decision to pull out followed growing doubts as to whether the summit would go ahead. North Korea had expressed its anger over a suggestion by national security adviser John Bolton that war-torn Libya was a model for denuclearization — a comparison Trump later publicly rejected. The New York Times reported Sunday that Trump had privately questioned advisers about whether he should pull out to avoid a potential political humiliation if the meeting did not yield the results he wanted.
NBC reported Friday that there were deep divisions between Trump’s top advisers over whether to press ahead with the summit — particularly between the hawkish Bolton, who has publicly advocated for regime change in North Korea, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has visited Pyongyang twice, met with Kim and helped secure the release of three detained Americans. Several officials said Pompeo blamed Bolton for scuppering the progress he had made in preparing for the summit.
In another roadbump, North Korean officials had failed to show up to a scheduled meeting with their American counterparts in Singapore to discuss logistics for the summit, a senior White House official told CNN.
“The North Koreans didn't tell us anything. They simply stood us up,” the official said.
Cover image: President Donald J. Trump stops to talk to reporters and members of the media as he walks from the Oval Office to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday, May 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)