‘They simply stood us up’: Why Trump called off summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un

There were reports that US president Donald Trump decided to call off the meeting to pre-empt North Korean withdrawal, to avoid looking strung along and abandoned by North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

world Updated: May 25, 2018 17:47 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald Trump,Kim Jong Un,Trump Kim summit
A man wearing a mask of US President Donald Trump performs next to a cutout of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-US President Donald Trump rally near US embassy in Seoul, South Korea, on May 25, 2018. (Reuters)

US president Donald Trump personally dictated a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Thursday conveying his decision to call off their Singapore summit amid growing signs of skittishness from Pyongyang accompanied by an alarming rise in sharp rhetoric.

Last week, a team of US officials hoping to hold preparatory talks with North Korean officials was left waiting in Singapore, the venue of what was expected to be a historic visit.

“The North Koreans didn’t tell us anything. They simply stood us up,” a senior White House official said.

The official also spoke of “broken promises” on the part of the North Koreans.

Responding to Trump’s letter, Pyongyang said it is willing to hold talks “at any time, at any format” and echoing US president’s letter — that talks could still happen if Kim changed his mind — said it was willing to give the United States “time and opportunities” to reconsider the cancellation.

The US president held out the possibility of talks still happening in both his letter and in following remarks, in what to many seemed like a contradictory position to hold but which to others appeared to be a negotiating position from a man who fancies himself as an ace dealmaker.

There were also reports that the US president decided to call off the meeting to pre-empt North Korean withdrawal, to avoid looking strung along and abandoned by Kim.

But roadblocks had begun popping up as demonstrated by the US team being stood up in Singapore at a meeting arranged by the secretary of state Mike Pompeo, the senior-most American official to have been in direct contact with the North Korean leader with two face-to-face meetings, once as CIA director and then as the top US diplomat.

Pompeo read out the president’s letter at the start of his pre-scheduled hearing before the US senate’s foreign affairs committee and sought to reassure lawmakers that the administration was prepared to go through with the talks. But he could conceal his frustration.

“Over the past many days, we have endeavoured to do what Chairman Kim and I had agreed, which was to put teams, preparation teams together to begin to work to prepare for the summit — and we have received no response to our inquiries,” the secretary of state said.

That was an alarming admission from the top American negotiator with North Korea, reflecting growing unease about the talks on both sides.

And then came the Wednesday diatribe against vice-president Mike Pence. A North Korean official considered close to Kim lashed out at Pence calling him a “political dummy” and “ignorant and stupid”.

“As a person involved in the US affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the US vice-president,” Choe Son Hui, a vice-foreign minister who previously handled ties with the US, said in a statement.

North Korea seemed annoyed by Trump administration officials’ talk of the Libyan Model. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons programme between 2003 and 2004 in return for relief from sanctions. He was forced out of office during a Nato-led military intervention in 2011 and was killed by rebel forces while on the run, as he had pleaded for his life.

It was first suggested by national security adviser John Bolton in a TV interview and Pence said later that Libya was what could happen to North Korea if it did not go ahead with denuclearisation.

Trump sought to reassure Kim in remarks since that it was not his administration’s policy to oust him and said: “He’d (Kim) be in his country, he’d be running his country”.

First Published: May 25, 2018 10:01 IST