South Korea wasn’t quite sure how to react on Thursday when President Donald Trump announced he was cancelling his historic nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“We are attempting to make sense of what, precisely, President Trump means,” South Korean presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said in a statement shortly after the news broke.
It was around midnight in Seoul when Trump announced he was pulling out of the summit between the U.S. and North Korea that was scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, accusing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un of squandering the historic opportunity.
“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,” Trump wrote in a letter to the North Korean leader.
Trump's decision appeared to catch his South Korean partners by complete surprise.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that he was “very perplexed and sorry” that the summit had been canceled, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
Moon’s comments came shortly after he had convened a late-night emergency meeting at South Korea’s Blue House with his top-level advisers, including his chief of staff, foreign minister, and defense minister.
Moon had just returned from meeting Trump in Washington, Tokyo Bureau Chief for the Washington Post Anna Fifield pointed out. He hadn’t even been home for a full day before hearing that his U.S. negotiating partner had pulled out of the summit.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to comment on whether the U.S. had given South Korea a heads-up before penning the letter to Kim. But Pompeo provided a bit more clarity on events leading up to Trump’s decision.
“Over the past many days, we have endeavored to do what Chairman Kim and I had agreed, which was to put teams, preparation teams together to begin to work to prepare for the summit,” Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday. “And we have received no response to our inquiries from them.”
Despite the latest curveball, Moon said he still believed Trump and Kim were sincere in their desire to have peace talks, and urged both leaders to continue to pursue direct talks.
“It is difficult to deal with these sensitive and difficult diplomatic problems with this current way of communicating,” Moon said.
Though Trump described the aborted summit as a “missed opportunity,” he did leave the door open for a future meeting with Kim.
But later on Thursday, his tone had shifted again, telling reporters that the U.S. military is “ready if necessary” to act if North Korea lashes out.