WASHINGTON — The Trump administration declared Wednesday that it’s up to North Korea to follow through on its threats to cancel a summit with Kim Jong Un, saying the United States remains prepared to meet.
“If they want to meet we’ll be ready and if they don’t, that’s OK too,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters at the White House.
Suggesting that the threats by Kim’s government may be pre-summit posturing, Sanders also said that “this is something that we fully expected,” and that the administration remains “hopeful” that the June 12 meeting will come off.
Hours after protesting U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, the North Koreans issued a second threat to cancel the Trump-Kim meeting by rejecting the idea that they would unilaterally give up nuclear weapons, saying their country would end up like Libya or Iraq.
“If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit,” said the translated statement attributed to Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s first vice-minister of Foreign Affairs.
Trump announced last week he would meet with Kim on June 12 in Singapore to discuss an agreement on nuclear weapons. For months, the American president has urged China and other countries to cut off economic aid to North Korea until Kim gives up his weapons programs.
In its latest statement, the North Koreans suggested they would not give up nukes even in exchange for economic assistance from the U.S. and allies.
The statement attacked Trump aides, singling out National Security Adviser John Bolton in particular, for promoting what the North Koreans called “the assertions of so-called Libya mode of nuclear abandonment.”
Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi gave up programs for weapons of mass destruction in 2003. He was deposed and killed in 2011 after a rebellion sparked by the Arab Spring.
The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, toppled Saddam Hussein’s government.
Bolton, a long-time critic of the North Korean regime, has cited the “Libya model” as a potential process by which Kim could dismantle its nuclear programs. Sanders, however, said that is not administration policy: “This is the President Trump model. He’s going to run this the way he sees fit.”
In an earlier statement, North Korea criticized ongoing joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea, and said that was a reason to rethink the Trump-Kim summit.
U.S. officials, caught by surprise, said they have received no formal notification from the North or South Korean governments, and no formal protest of the military exercises from Kim’s government.
The U.S. Defense Department said the military exercises are annual events, designed to help the U.S.-South Korea alliance defend itself in case of attack. “While we will not discuss specifics, the defensive nature of these combined exercises has been clear for many decades and has not changed,” said Army Col. Robert Manning, a Pentagon spokesman.
How serious are the threats?
It’s hard to know how seriously to treat Kim’s threats about the Trump meeting, analysts said.
They could be Kim’s way of pushing back at perceptions that Trump is seeking more from North Korea than he is willing to give.
The two sides have described denuclearization quite differently; while Trump wants North Korea to fully disarm its nukes, the North Koreans have in the past called on the United States to pull back its nuclear defense umbrella across the Korean Peninsula.
Kim could also be working with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who wants to show that he will be a player in the fate of his nuclear armed neighbor, some analysts speculated.
“I don’t think anybody knows,” said Aaron David Miller, a former State Department negotiator for presidents from both political parties. “There’s a high degree of opacity here.”
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., speaking on Fox Business Network, described Kim as a “goon” and a “butcher,” but said the North Korean leader needs some kind of deal because sanctions are starving his people. Kennedy described Kim’s threats as part of the negotiating process, and added that “I think China completely controls Kim Jong Un.”
Trump has vowed to keep economic pressure on North Korea throughout the negotiating process.
The North Koreans went ahead and canceled planned meetings Wednesday with South Korean counterparts. The two sides had planned to discuss new efforts to reduce border tensions, including proposals to re-unite families separated during the Korean War of the early 1950s.
The South and North Koreans have also talked about a formal peace treaty, as they are technically still at war; the original Korean conflict ended with an armistice signed in 1953.
In announcing the cancellation of the meeting with the South Koreans, the North Koreans said that “the United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities.”
Trump supporters have said he should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring North Korea to the table.
In its latest threat to cancel the Trump-Kim summit, the North Koreans took aim at Trump’s reputation and alluded to his criticism of previous presidents over their handling of Korean issues.
“If President Trump follows in the footsteps of his predecessors, he will be recorded as more tragic and unsuccessful president than his predecessors, far from his initial ambition to make unprecedented success,” said the translated statement.
Sanders said the decision belongs to North Korea.
“If they want to meet,” she said, “the president will certainly be ready.”
By: David Jackson, USA TODAY