Trump suggests North Korea summit may not go ahead

‘Very substantial chance’ June 12th meeting will not work out, says US president

US president Donald Trump and South Korean president Moon Jae-in shake hands during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on Tuesday. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

US president Donald Trump and South Korean president Moon Jae-in shake hands during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on Tuesday. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

 

US president Donald Trump has appeared to cast doubt about whether next month’s planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will go ahead, following mixed messages from Pyongyang about its commitment to the meeting.

Speaking alongside South Korean president Moon Jae-in ahead of a meeting between the two allies in the Oval Office, Mr Trump said that “it may not work out for June 12”, referring to the date of the scheduled summit.

“Whether or not it happens you’ll be knowing pretty soon,” he said in response to questions from reporters, adding: “If it doesn’t happen, maybe it will happen later.” While there was a “very substantial chance” it will not work out, he said, that “doesn’t mean it won’t work out over a period of time”.

Mr Trump declined to say if he had spoken to the North Korean leader, when probed by journalists. But he said he would guarantee Mr Kim’s safety as part of a nuclear deal. “He will be safe, he will be happy, his country will be rich,” he said.

North Korea has a chance to be a great country, and it can’t be a great country under the circumstances they are living right now. I think they should seize the opportunity,” he said, adding that he believed Mr Kim was serious about the summit.

He said that Mr Kim would be “very proud” if a deal was reached, describing the North Korean people as “hardworking, great people”.

He said that an “all-in-one” denuclearisation by North Korean would be the preferred outcome of the summit, rather than an incremental denuclearisation by the nuclear power.

Pompeo groundwork

Preparations have been under way in Washington for the proposed summit in Singapore, which would mark the first meeting between a North Korean leader and a sitting US president. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has met Mr Kim twice in the North Korean capital since early April in a bid to lay the ground for the meeting.

But last week Pyongyang warned that it could pull out of the summit, citing concerns about joint US and South Korean military drills on the Korean peninsula and specifically referencing national security adviser John Bolton’s claims that the “Libya model” of denuclearisation could be used as a blueprint for North Korea.

Despite efforts by Mr Trump to assuage North Korea’s concerns last week – he said on Friday that the Libya model would only be on the table if North Korea didn’t agree to denuclearise – there have been reports of growing concern within the White House about North Korea’s commitment to the summit following its abrupt warning.

However, South Korean officials insisted there was still a “99 per cent chance” of the summit going ahead. Speaking ahead of the Moon-Trump meeting, the South Korean president’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, said there had been no indication from conversations with Washington that the summit would not go ahead. “We’re trying to understand the situation from the North’s perspective,” he said, adding that there was “many possibilities” for the summit.

South Korea and the US have been sharing every bit of information and have remained in close co-ordination with each other,” he said. “We’ve had various working-level discussions on how to steer North Korea in a direction that we want, and I expect [Moon and Trump] will have great talks this time.”

Sitting alongside Mr Trump on Tuesday, Mr Moon also expressed optimism that the Singapore summit would go ahead, saying the world was “one step closer to achieving the dream of complete denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula.” He added: “All this was possible because of you, Mr President.”