Trump Cancels Summit With North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un

May 24, 2018
Originally published on May 24, 2018 5:06 pm

Updated at 4:40 p.m. ET

President Trump has called off a highly anticipated June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"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 Kim.

Trump's decision comes hours after North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, in remarks carried on the country's official KCNA news service, said it would not "beg the U.S. for dialogue" and warned that it could make Washington "taste an appalling tragedy."

Choe also called Vice President Pence a "political dummy" and criticized Pence's recent suggestion that North Korea could end up like Libya if doesn't come to the bargaining table.

"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," Choe said.

In late 2003, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi voluntarily dismantled the nation's nuclear weapons program. But in 2011, during the Western-backed Arab Spring demonstrations, Gadhafi was deposed and then killed by rebel forces.

In calling off the meeting, Trump said Kim had missed an opportunity, but he left the door open to renewed talks in the future.

"The world, and North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth," Trump wrote. "If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write."

Trump also returned to past form, boasting of the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

"You talk about your nuclear capabilities," Trump wrote. "But ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used."

Later, appearing at a bill signing ceremony, Trump said the U.S. military is "ready if necessary" to respond if any "foolish or reckless acts" are undertaken by North Korea. He also said U.S. sanctions will remain in place.

Trump held out the possibility that "the existing summit could take place, or a summit at a later date." He added, "Nobody should be anxious, we have to get it right."

Trump said the dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea had been good "until recently." Trump said, "I think I understand why that happened" but would not elaborate.

It appears Trump's decision to abruptly cancel the summit caught South Korea by surprise.

"We are attempting to make sense of what, precisely, President Trump means," said government spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom. South Korean leaders called an emergency meeting to discuss the matter at midnight in Seoul.

Testifying before a Senate panel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration was "fully prepared" for the summit. "I think we're rocking. I think we're ready."

Democrats were skeptical that was the case, however. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said Trump was discovering that "the art of diplomacy is much harder than the art of the deal."

Speaking on NPR's Morning Edition, North Korea expert Joel Wit of the Stimson Center said the administration "mismanaged an important historic opportunity."

Wit said, "I think it failed in the large part because the administration has no idea how to deal with the North Koreans. It failed because the administration veered from, you know, praise of Kim Jong Un, to making threats, to talking about the Libya model, which is really something the North Koreans don't want to hear about. It's been entirely too public in this process while we should have been focused on quiet preparations."

Earlier in the day, North Korea made a public show of destroying its nuclear testing grounds. But the country's weapons program remains intact.

"We can also make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up to now," Choe warned in her statement.

That statement was one of the factors the White House cited for Trump's decision to cancel the summit. In a background briefing with reporters, a senior administration official said Trump was briefed on the statement Wednesday night, "slept on it" and, after meeting with Pence, Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, dictated the letter to Kim on Thursday morning.

It was one of a "trail of broken promises" by North Korea, the official said.

North Korean officials also stood up a U.S. team led by deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin that had traveled to Singapore last week to work out logistics for the meeting. "They waited and they waited," the official said. "The North Koreans never showed up."

NPR's Brett Neely contributed to this report.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The long-awaited summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is off. President Trump canceled those plans today. He was supposed to meet Kim in Singapore next month. The White House hoped that would be a step towards ending North Korea's nuclear program. Trump says he scrapped the meeting because of hostile and angry rhetoric coming from North Korea recently. The move leaves the future of Trump's nuclear diplomacy in doubt, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: In a one-page letter to the North Korean leader that he personally dictated and in later comments to reporters, Trump sounded genuinely disappointed to be backing out of his meeting with Kim. The president called it a missed opportunity and a truly sad moment in history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and indeed a setback for the world.

HORSLEY: Trump left the door open to rescheduling the summit, though, at some point in the future. He said he'd felt he'd been building a wonderful dialogue with the North Korean leader. And he told Kim, if you change your mind, please don't hesitate to call or write.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: If and when Kim Jong Un chooses to engage in constructive dialogue and actions, I am waiting.

HORSLEY: It was just 2 1/2 months ago that Trump impulsively accepted Kim's invitation to this summit. And in the weeks that followed, Trump steadily built expectations. He and his supporters talked about a Nobel Peace Prize for the president, a military office at the White House, even commissioned a commemorative coin. Georgetown professor Victor Cha, who helped oversee Korea policy in the Bush administration, says in the end, the stakes may have grown too high for the president, who believes an important tool of negotiation is the willingness to walk away.

VICTOR CHA: The president I don't think ever wants to be in a position where he walks into a meeting where he wants the negotiation more than his counterpart. At least that's the way he's written about it in the past in "Art Of The Deal" and other places.

HORSLEY: For weeks, Kim also seemed eager for the summit. He even released three Korean-American prisoners in a goodwill gesture. Trump thanked Kim for that in his letter today, but he also complained about the increasingly bellicose rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang in recent days. Trump says military forces in the U.S., South Korea and Japan are on alert for any, quote, "foolish or reckless actions North Korea might take."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We are more ready than we have ever been before.

HORSLEY: Trump says for now the U.S. will maintain tough economic sanctions against North Korea. His letter also included some of the same my-nuclear-button-is-bigger-than-yours tone that characterized his earlier interactions with Kim. Speaking at a disarmament conference in Geneva today, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he's deeply concerned by the cancellation of the Trump-Kim summit. And Kelsey Davenport, who directs nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, says the Trump administration is partly to blame. She suggests national security adviser John Bolton and others poisoned the atmosphere for the meeting with comparisons to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was ultimately overthrown and murdered eight years after surrendering his own nuclear program.

KELSEY DAVENPORT: Loose talk of decimating the country if it doesn't reach a deal, the talk of the Libya model - you know, all of that, you know, played into, you know, North Korea's harsh reaction to the messaging coming out of Washington.

HORSLEY: The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also complains that the administration had not adequately prepared for the summit or assessed Kim's willingness to disarm. That argument was rejected by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE POMPEO: I think the American team is fully prepared. I think we're rocking. I think we're ready.

HORSLEY: But a senior White House official says U.S. preparations were met with a trail of broken promises by the North Koreans. Last weekend, a White House team traveled to Singapore for a scheduled meeting to work out logistics for the summit. Their North Korean counterparts never showed. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.