washington – US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday a planned summit with Kim Jong-un may not take place next month as planned, despite his belief that the North Korean leader is “serious” about denuclearization.
“It may not work out for June 12,” Trump said, being characteristically coy about the prospects for the historic meeting in Singapore.
“If it does not happen, maybe it will happen later,” Trump said, as he began talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House.
But Trump added that he does believe the North Korean leader is willing to give up nukes, amid fears about apparent North Korean backpedaling. “I do think he is serious. I think he is absolutely very serious,” Trump said, again raising the prospect of a windfall for Kim if he mothballs weapons programs.
“He will be extremely happy,” Trump said of Kim if the deal works out. “He will be very happy.”
Trump welcomed South Korea’s president to the White House on Tuesday, high stakes and potentially testy meeting that could decide whether the US leader’s much-vaunted summit with Kim goes ahead.
Trump offered a friendly smile and a handshake to Moon Jae-in, who is in Washington to try and salvage a rare diplomatic opening between the US and North Korea that is in trouble almost before it begins.
“I would still contend that this time is different,” South Korean ambassador Cho Yoon Je wrote in the Washington Post on the eve of his president’s visit.
“We must still give hope a chance, even though there are miles to go and the road will be bumpy.”
South Korea – worried about Kim’s bellicose weapons testing and Trump’s similarly bellicose warnings about “fire and fury” – was instrumental in convincing the two Cold War foes to sit down and talk.
Moon sent his own national security advisor to the White House in March, carrying an offer of talks and word that North Korea may be willing to abandon nuclear weapons, an enticing prospect.
Trump surprised his guests, his own aides, and the world by summarily accepting the meeting, seeing an opportunity to “do a deal” and avoid military confrontation.
Pyongyang is on the verge of marrying nuclear and missile technology allowing it to hit the continental United States with a nuke, a capability Washington sees as wholly unacceptable. Since then, there has been a landmark series of intra-Korean meetings, two trips to Pyongyang by Mike Pompeo – first as CIA director then as America’s top diplomat – and three American citizens have been released from the North. But after several Trumpian victory laps, North Korea’s willingness to denuclearize is now in serious doubt.
Earlier this month, North Korea denounced US demands for “unilateral nuclear abandonment” and canceled at the last minute a meeting with the South in protest over joint military drills between Seoul and Washington.