Amid fresh uncertainty over his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump Wednesday said that he is committed to pressing for the country to abandon its nuclear program as part of any meeting.
North Korea threatened earlier in the day to scrap the historic summit between Trump and Kim, saying it has no interest in a “one-sided” affair meant to pressure the North to abandon its nuclear weapons. But Trump appeared to shrug off the warning, saying that the U.S. hadn’t been notified.
“We haven’t seen anything, we haven’t heard anything,” Trump said as he welcomed the president of Uzbekistan to the White House. “We will see what happens.”
The warning from North Korea’s first vice foreign minister came after the country abruptly canceled a high-level meeting with South Korea to protest U.S.-South Korean military exercises that the North has long claimed are an invasion rehearsal.
Behind the scenes, White House aides tried to soothe South Korean frustrations over the cancelled meeting with the North, as they continue to plan for the summit, planned for June 12 in Singapore, as if nothing had changed. U.S. officials compared the threat to Trump’s own warning that he might walk away from the summit if he determines that Kim is not serious about abandoning his nuclear program, saying it did not appear to be serious.
The direction from the Oval Office to White House aides and other U.S. national security agencies Wednesday was to downplay the North Korean threats and not “take the bait” by overreacting to the provocation, said a senior U.S. official. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss internal conversation publicly and requested anonymity.
National Security Adviser John Bolton told Fox News Radio Wednesday that “we are trying to be both optimistic and realistic at the same time.”
Bolton, who was called out by name by the North for saying that the U.S. is seeking an outcome similar to Libya’s unilateral nuclear disarmament, said the personal attack raised the question of “whether this really is a sign that that they’re not taking our objective of denuclearization seriously.”
North Korean first vice foreign minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a statement carried by state media that “we are no longer interested in a negotiation that will be all about driving us into a corner and making a one-sided demand for us to give up our nukes; and this would force us to reconsider whether we would accept the North Korea-U.S. summit meeting.”
Trump surprised even aides in March when he accepted an invitation from Kim to meet. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has met with the North Korean leader twice to lay the groundwork for the summit, and reported that Kim had agreed to place his nuclear arsenal on the negotiating table.
The State Department emphasized that Kim had previously indicated that he understood the need and purpose of the U.S. continuing its long-planned exercises with South Korea. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. had not heard anything directly from North or South Korea that would change that.
“We will continue to go ahead and plan the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un,” Nauert said.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier Wednesday that preparations for the summit were ongoing despite the cancellation threat, and that Trump is “hopeful” that the meeting will still take place.
“If it doesn’t, we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign that’s been ongoing,” she told Fox.
Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said he is concerned that talks are “really being oversimplified” by the White House.
“This is not a like condo deal where two people sit down and hash out a number of outstanding issues and then they say ‘Well, some lawyers can write it up,'” he said.