As my colleague, Sarah Lee, posted earlier, President Trump has pulled the plug on the planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore. This is how this came to be.
It was apparent to everyone watching that North Korea’s definition of denuclearization did not extend to an independently verifiable eradication of North Korea’s nuclear weapons stockpile and its ability to make future weapons. That was going to be a sticking point that Trump has acknowledged indirectly by saying that he prefers an immediate solution but realizes that a phased process may be required. And during his meeting with South Korea’s President Moon, President Trump said he didn’t know if the summit would happen. Probably both sides were concerned that neither would have anything to bring home.
Yesterday, Mike Pence gave an interview in which he essentially reiterated the US position.
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) May 22, 2018
The points he made were that North Korea had to give up nuclear weapons, that there would be no let up in sanctions before the US had seen concrete evidence of denuclearization. And he capped it off by saying that Trump was willing to walk away from the summit if it didn’t look like a deal was possible and he warned North Korea to not try “to play” Trump and that the Muammar Qaddafi solution was always available if he didn’t denuclearize. Keep in mind that Mike Pence is not a cowboy. There is no way he did that interview without a specific message delivered with specific words already planned.
To say that the North Koreans went batsh** crazy is to engage in Olympic-class understatement.
North Korea’s senior envoy for U.S. affairs renewed a threat to call off a planned summit with President Donald Trump and warned that Pyongyang could “make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined.”
In its most direct language aimed at Washington following a recent rapprochement between the two countries, Choe Son Hui, the North’s vice minister of foreign affairs, said if the June 12 talks were called off, the U.S. could instead face off with North Korea in a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”
Ms. Choe’s statement, issued through official state media, called out Vice President Mike Pence, to whom she referred as “a political dummy.”
Ms. Choe, in her statement Thursday, took issue with an interview that Mr. Pence gave to Fox News earlier this week in which he suggested that the North sought the summit meeting with Mr. Trump.
She also criticized the vice president for bringing up Libya in the context of denuclearization—a sensitive subject for North Korea, after Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011, eight years after giving up Libya’s nuclear weapons. Mr. Pence said the Libya model would only come about if North Korea failed to denuclearize.
In her Thursday statement, published by the Korean Central News Agency, Ms. Choe called Mr. Pence’s words “unbridled and impudent” and said that “Pence should have seriously considered the terrible consequences of his words.”
“As a person involved in the U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice president,” she said.
Ms. Choe added that, if the U.S. continues to offend the North’s “goodwill,” she would tell Mr. Kim to reconsider the Singapore summit with the U.S.
“It is the U.S. who has asked for dialogue, but now it is misleading the public opinion as if we have invited them to sit with us,” Ms. Choe said. “We will neither beg the U.S. for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us.”
And it is that broadside of insults that Trump is clearly responding to. If you look at this outburst and compare it what happened last week, it sort of mirrors the tactics they used against the South Koreans where they walked away from a major meeting last Wednesday with hours’ notice. Trump and his national security team could have been concerned that the same was being planned for Trump and decided to be proactive.
Here are some other points to consider via Twitter:
Pompeo: In recent days, there was a breakdown in communication between the U.S. and North Korean preparation teams https://t.co/0UusImApEn
— Dr. Mark P. Barry (@DrMarkPBarry) May 24, 2018
— CSIS Korea Chair (@CSISKoreaChair) May 24, 2018
.@VictorDCha comments that one reason Trump canceled the June 12 summit was because NK's ineffective communication with the U.S. while preparing for the summit, which engendered logistical problems, during a phone interview with @HallieJackson of @MSNBC
— CSIS Korea Chair (@CSISKoreaChair) May 24, 2018
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) May 24, 2018
Says A White House official familiar with direct knowledge of the internal deliberations: "People are focusing too much on the 'dummy' part of the North Koreans’ statement. They literally threatened nuclear war." https://t.co/XH45Pod1sd
— Axios (@axios) May 24, 2018
South Korea's president has just called an emergency meeting at the Blue House, summoning his chief of staff, national security adviser, foreign minister, unification minister and intelligence chief. It's midnight in Seoul.
— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) May 24, 2018
What to make of all of this? Who knows. From a US point of view, going into a summit expecting significant progress on denuclearization when the other side wanted a photo op to cement their status as a nuclear power didn’t make much sense.
That last tweet gives the implication that President Moon got no advance notice. That’s kind of hard to believe but pundits gonna pundit. The tone of the letter is “not now” rather than “FOAD” which leaves the door open in the future.
The real proof of this will be if the North Koreans start launching missiles right away. If they don’t, then a second, slower, approach may be possible.
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