In a move that many observers expected, President Trump on Thursday called off his summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un that had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.
The president blamed the decision on North Korea's “tremendous anger and open hostility.” In a letter to Kim, he explained: “I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting. … I was very much looking forward to being there with you. The world, and North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth.”
Later in the day, Trump warned Kim that the United States is “ready if necessary” to respond militarily if North Korea commits a “foolish or reckless act.” While the president has not ruled out a future meeting with Kim, the prospects for an agreement are unlikely, as the United States is insisting that North Korea fully denuclearize its armed forces.
“While many things can happen and a great opportunity lies ahead potentially, I believe this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and indeed a setback for the world,” Trump said. He stressed that economic sanctions the United States imposed on North Korea will remain in place.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who visited the White House earlier in the week, commented that he was “very perplexed and sorry” about the summit being scrapped. “The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and ensuring a permanent peace are historic tasks that cannot be delayed or forsaken,” Moon declared. In an apparent jab at Trump and Kim, he added: “It is difficult to deal with these sensitive and difficult diplomatic problems with this current way of communicating.”
News that the summit had been canceled did not come as a big surprise, as for days now both sides have been exchanging rhetorical barbs that suggested signs of trouble. North Korea was expressing misgivings about agreeing to the meeting and was also sharply critical of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises that occurred last week. U.S. officials had been informing foreign allies that the summit would likely be postponed, an American diplomat told The Washington Post.
U.S. voters also were skeptical about the meeting. In a national poll released last month by the Post and ABC News, 56 percent of respondents said they hoped Trump and Kim would sit down to resolve their differences. However, two-thirds of those surveyed predicted there would be no summit.
“It is true that Trump overreacted to the petty game North Korea was playing to improve its hand,” Chun Yung-woo, who formerly represented South Korea in nuclear talks with North Korea, said in an interview with the Post. “But if North Korea is not serious about denuclearization as understood generally, it would have been dangerous to hold the summit as scheduled.”
Hu Xijin of China, editor of the communist Global Times, noted that Trump's decision to call off the summit “was announced a few hours after North Korea dismantled its nuclear test site.” The journalist wrote that Kim “must have felt that he was tricked by Trump.”
Hostilities between the two countries intensified recently, when Kim's government threatened a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.” The statement came in response to U.S. national security adviser John Bolton's proposal to employ the “Libyan model” to rein in North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Bolton was referring to the 2011 United States military intervention in Libya that led to the death of leader Moammar Gaddafi, which took place during the Obama administration.
“I’m not sure that constantly quoting the Libya model is the diplomatic way to try to get to the results that we try to seek in North Korea,” said Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who accused Trump's team of a “lack of deep preparation.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fired back: “We were fully engaged over the past weeks to prepare for this meeting.” He expressed hope that negotiations would soon get “back on track.”
Some congressional Republicans rose to Trump's defense. One of them, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, claimed that the president had his “eyes wide open throughout the process” and “made the right choices.”
Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Democratic House minority whip, had a starkly different reaction. He called Trump's letter to Kim “a sad example of the petulance and shallowness of the foreign policy being pursued by this president.” Hoyer alleged that “from the beginning to the present, the dealings with North Korea have been sophomoric and without strategic or tactical merit.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan urged the administration to “continue to work with our allies toward a peaceful resolution, but that will require a much greater degree of seriousness from the Kim regime.” The Wisconsin Republican continued: “At the same time, Congress has provided significant tools to hold North Korea accountable, and it is important that the United States not relent in this maximum pressure campaign.”