The much-anticipated meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might not happen after all.
While the White House insists preparations are still under way for a June 12 summit in Singapore, North Korea is putting out a different message. According to the Korea Central News Agency, Kim is reluctant to sit down with Trump because he has no intention of agreeing to the key U.S. demand: that North Korea fully denuclearize its military.
The United States offered “economic compensation and benefit in case we abandon” the weapons, according to Kim Kye Gwan, vice minister of the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The official said his country “never had any expectation of U.S. support in carrying out our economic construction and will not … make such a deal in future.” He added: “If they try to push us into a corner and force only unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in that kind of talks and will have to reconsider ... the upcoming summit.”
Trump responded by making promises and threats. He assured Kim that the United States would recognize him as his nation's leader if he gets rid of the nukes, but warned that North Korea would be “decimated” if he fails to comply. “If the meeting happens, it happens; and if it doesn't, we go on to the next step,” the president said. “We may have the meeting. We may not have the meeting. If we don't have it, that will be very interesting. ... We'll see what happens. … You have to want to do it. With deals ... you have to have two parties that want to do it. (Kim) absolutely wanted to do it. Perhaps he doesn't want to do it.”
Trump accused Xi Jinping, China's president, of “influencing” Kim to stand up to the United States. The two Asian heads of state recently met to discuss growing tensions in the area. The U.S. administration has repeatedly urged China to play a greater role in reining in North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Trump is scheduled to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae In, something Kim refuses to do because he is upset about military drills his southern neighbor has been conducting. “It will not be easy to sit back with South Korea's current 'regime' unless the serious situation that suspended the high-level inter-Korean talks is resolved,” said North Korean official Ri Son Gwon, referring to stalled negotiations involving the two Korean leaders. “The direction of future North-South relations will depend solely on the actions of the South Korean authorities.”
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton reported that his recent conversation with a comparable official in South Korea's government produced no new information about Kim's plans. “We want to do whatever we can to make the (Trump-Kim) meeting a success,” Bolton said during an interview on Fox News Radio. “But there should be no mistake that if we don't see that commitment to denuclearization, then we're not going to make the mistakes of past administrations and fall into endless discussions with North Korea.”
Soon after joining the Trump administration this spring, Bolton angered North Korea by suggesting the use of the “Libyan model of 2003, 2004” to force denuclearization. Bolton compared the current situation with how the U.S. military dealt with Libya's nuclear threat by invading the country and driving its leader, Moammar Gadhafi, out of power.
Trump was quick to refute Bolton's statement. "The Libyan model isn't a model that we have at all when we're thinking of North Korea,” he said. “The model, if you look at that model with Gadhafi, that was a total decimation. We went in there to beat him. We decimated that country. We never said to Gadhafi, 'Oh, we're going to give you protection.' We went in and decimated him, and we did the same in Iraq…That model would take place if we don't make a deal (with North Korea), most likely. But if we make a deal, I think Kim Jong Un is going to be very, very happy. He'd be there, he'd be in his country, he'd be running his country, his country would be very rich.”
Satellite pictures indicate that North Korea is dismantling its nuclear weapons testing facility. “At the very least, this is a welcome PR move,” said Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. “Over the past two weeks, five or six buildings have inexplicably come down. Something is clearly happening there.”
During his meeting with South Korea's Moon Jae In earlier this year, Kim pledged to stop using the site, where six nuclear detonations have taken place. He promised to allow reporters and inspectors to visit the scene.
The closure plan, as well as North Korea's recent release of three American hostages, could be signs that Kim is trying to make peace with the United States. Skeptics argue that the detonation of a hydrogen bomb in September 2017 destroyed much of the testing site, and that the facility was no longer needed.