Donald Trump has said his scheduled summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may get delayed, a comment that appeared to highlight the uncertainty that exists as both sides prepare for what would be a historic meeting.
Speaking as South Korean president Moon Jae-in arrived for talks at the White House designed to try and ensure the meeting set for 12 June in Singapore goes ahead, Mr Trump said preparations were “moving along”.
But Mr Trump said there could be a postponement if certain conditions were not met. “If it doesn’t happen, maybe it will happen later.”
He added: “You never know about deals ... I’ve made a lot of deals. You never really know. It may not work out for June 12.”
Speaking in the Oval Office, Mr Trump said he believed North Korea’s leader was keen for the summit to proceed, saying he thought Mr Kim was “serious. I do think he’d like to see that happen”.
He said it should be a good meeting for North Korea, and a “good meeting for the world”.
“Whether or not it happens, you will know pretty soon,” he added. “North Korea has a chance to be a great country and it can’t be a country under these circumstances they are living right now ... I think they should seize the opportunity.”
“South Korea, China and Japan ... They will be willing to help ... To make North Korea great.”
Mr Trump initially responded to the prospect of a summit with Mr Kim enthusiastically. But last week, after North Korea suggested it may pull out, apparently a response to comments from national security adviser John Bolton that Pyongyang should give up its nuclear weapons as a starting point, reports said Mr Trump was starting to have doubts.
The North also pulled out of planned peace talks with the South last week, objecting to long-scheduled joint military exercises between US and the Republic of Korea forces.
Reports said while Mr Trump was not yet at the point of pulling out, he was concerned the meeting could end as an embarrassing episode, rather than the historic achievement he wants it to be. Such was his concern, the US president telephoned Mr Moon on Saturday evening to pick his brains, even though the South Korean leader was due to visit just two days later.
Mr Moon said the “fate and the future” of the Korean Peninsula hinged on the talks, telling the US president that they were “one step closer” to the dream of a denuclearised Korean peninsula.
“There are certain conditions that we want,” Mr Trump said. He said if those conditions were not met, “we won’t have the meeting”. He declined to elaborate on those conditions, Reuters reported.
Mr Trump’s remarks were the strongest sign from him yet about the possibility of a delay or cancellation of what would be the first-ever summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea.
It was unclear whether Trump was truly backing away from a summit that he is eager to hold or whether he was strategically coaxing North Korea to the table. For weeks now, both sides have been engaged in shadow boxing.
Yet if the summit is called off or fails, it would be a major blow to what Mr Trump supporters hope will be the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency.
Mr Trump was asked for his views on the long-term future of the Korean peninsula, which has seen conflict and tension since 1950. A formal peace treaty between the various parties involved in the Korean War – the US, South Korea, North Korea, Russia and China – was never signed.
“We are looking at two Koreas ... Maybe in the future they will go back to one Korea,” Mr Trump said.
Mr Trump suggested Mr Moon may be having his own meeting with Mr Kim, but declined to say whether he would or not. He also suggested Mr Kim’s recent visit to China may have changed the North Korean leader’s attitude about a deal. “There was a difference when he left China a second time,” he said
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo subsequently said the US was “working hard” to make the summit a success. “I’m confident we’ll get there,” he said.
Meanwhile, high-level talks between North and South Korea will probably resume after 25 June following completion of joint US-South Korea military drills, a South Korean government spokesman said.
Yoon Young-chan, a spokesman for the South Korean presidency, was speaking to reporters in Washington following a White House meeting between Mr Trump and South Korea’s Mr Moon.
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