US President Donald Trump on Thursday called off a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for next month, citing Pyongyang's 'open hostility,' and warned that the US military was ready in the event of any reckless acts by North Korea.
Trump wrote a letter to Kim to announce his abrupt withdrawal from what would have been a first-ever meeting between a serving US president and a North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12.
"Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it would be inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting," Trump wrote. "Please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place."
Meanwhile, North Korea today said it was still willing to talk to the United States after President Donald Trump cancelled a summit between the two countries, a decision Pyongyang described as “extremely regrettable”. “The abrupt announcement of the cancellation of the meeting is unexpected for us and we cannot but find it extremely regrettable,” Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister, said in a statement carried by the state-run KCNA news agency.
“We again state to the US our willingness to sit face-to-face at any time in any form to resolve the problem,” Kim added. US President Donald Trump on Thursday called off his planned June summit with Kim Jong Un, blaming “open hostility” from the North Korean regime and warning Pyongyang against committing any “foolish or reckless acts”.
Earlier on Thursday, North Korea had repeated its threat to pull out of the summit, which was intended to address concerns about its nuclear weapons program, and warned it was prepared for a nuclear showdown with Washington if necessary.
A White House official said a North Korean official's condemnation of US Vice President Mike Pence as a "political dummy" was "the last straw" that led to cancelling the summit.
Just before Trump announced the cancellation of the talks, North Korea declared it had “completely” dismantled its nuclear test site, in a carefully choreographed move portrayed as a goodwill gesture ahead of the summit. But the chances of success for the unprecedented face-to-face had recently been thrown into doubt. On Thursday Pyongyang hardened its rhetoric by attacking US Vice President Mike Pence as “ignorant and stupid”.
That broadside appeared to hit a nerve with Trump, leading to him abruptly pulling out of the talks. “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” read Trump’s letter to Kim, which was dictated word-for-word by the US leader, according to a senior White House official.
A second White House official said a major factor in Trump walking away was the possibility of a nuclear conflict raised by a North Korean official if diplomacy failed.
"The North Koreans literally threatened nuclear war in the statement released last night," she said. "No summit could be successful under these circumstances."
In a statement at the White House, Trump said he remained open to dialogue but had spoken to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and warned North Korea against any "reckless act."
"We are more ready than we have ever been before," Trump said.
He said US allies South Korea and Japan also were ready to shoulder much of the financial burden "if an unfortunate situation is forced upon us" by North Korea.
"While many things can happen and a great opportunity lies ahead potentially, I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and indeed a setback for the world.”
Asked if cancellation of the summit increased the risk of war, Trump replied: "We'll see what happens."
US stocks were down in afternoon trading but were well off the session lows hit after Trump cancelled the summit and threatened to impose tariffs on auto imports.
Trump said the United States would continue its "maximum pressure" campaign of sanctions to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
"North Korea has opportunity to end decades of poverty and oppression by following the path of denuclearisation, and joining the community of nations," he said.
Last month Trump had praised the authoritarian Kim as "very honourable" while preparing for the summit but the outlook for the meeting suffered a setback this month after North Korea angrily rejected the notion that it would agree to unilateral nuclear disarmament as the United States has demanded.
Trump cancelled the summit just a few hours after North Korea followed through on a pledge to blow up tunnels at its main nuclear test site, which Pyongyang said was proof of its commitment to end nuclear testing.
A small group of international media selected by North Korea witnessed the demolition of tunnels at the Punggye-ri site on Thursday.
The apparent destruction of what North Korea said was its only nuclear test site had been widely welcomed as a positive, if largely symbolic, step. Kim has declared his nuclear force complete, amid speculation the site was obsolete anyway.
The Pentagon said it was too early to give an assessment of the action at Punggye-ri but the site could be put back into service or re-established elsewhere.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, whose government had helped set up the summit, said he was "perplexed" by the cancellation and urged Trump and Kim to talk directly to each other.
Moon had met with Trump at the White House on Tuesday and urged him not to let a rare opportunity for a meeting with reclusive North Korea slip away.
The reference to Pence that offended the White House came in a statement released by North Korean media and citing Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui. She had called Pence a "political dummy" for comparing North Korea - a "nuclear weapons state" - to Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi gave up his unfinished nuclear development programme, only to be later killed by NATO-backed fighters.
"Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behaviour of the United States," Choe said.
US national security adviser John Bolton first advocated a Libya as a model of North Korea's disarmament. That incensed North Korea, which said the reason it had its nuclear arms was to ensure it did not end up like Libya and Gaddafi.
Trump had raised expectations for a successful summit after North Korea released three Americans this month, which Trump in his latter called "a beautiful gesture" by Kim.
While Trump's letter left the door open for talks with Kim, chances for a quick rescheduling appear remote and cancellation of the meeting will renew fears of a return to conflict on the Korean peninsula.
"You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God that they will never have to be used," he said.
North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons has been a source of tension on the Korean peninsula for decades, as well as antagonism with Washington, but escalated into fears of war last year after North Korea said it had tested an H-bomb and developed a missile capable of hitting the United States.
The rhetoric reached new heights under Trump as he mocked Kim as "little rocket man" and in address at the United Nations threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if necessary. Kim had called Trump mentally deranged and threatened to "tame" him with fire.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who travelled to North Korea twice to prepare the summit, meeting Kim both times, said Pyongyang had not responded in recent days to queries about the meeting.
Cancellation of the summit denies Trump what supporters hoped could have been the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency, and one worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize.
It comes at a time when Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has drawn criticism internationally, his moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem has fuelled violence on the Israel-Gaza border and he is on the defensive over an investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he had not had a sense that the administration had engaged in the detailed preparations necessary for a successful summit with Kim. He also suggested that rhetoric from top administration officials might not have been appropriate ahead of the meeting.
Robert Einhorn, a non-proliferation expert at the Brookings Institution, said it seemed Trump had realized he was not going to be able to get an assurance from Kim of North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons.
"He was, I think, reluctant to go to Singapore and come up short," he said.
"This probably was the best choice he could make - much better than having a meeting that would deepen the divisions, lead to angry recriminations and set back any prospect for getting back on track."
A former special assistant to the president during the Obama administration says that President Donald Trump’s decision to pull back from a planned summit with North Korea highlights that the president’s foreign policy approach — or lack thereof — has left the United States isolated and at greater risk of war.
Ned Price, who served as special assistant to President Barack Obama and also as a spokesman for his National Security Council, told The Independent that Mr Trump’s decision to cancel the North Korea summit sends a message to foreign allies that the US feels comfortable with unpredictability, even if it strains relationships around one of the most consequential international discussions of modern times.
“This always had to be something that we were in lock-step with our regional allies on. Primarily South Korea, but also China and Japan. This, I think, will be a reminder to all of those countries that Donald Trump's America can't be trusted,” Mr Price said. “Even when we do the right things and make the right moves one day, we may pull the rug out from under them in the next.”
Mr Trump announced that he was pulling out of the planned summit Thursday morning, citing North Korean officials who called Vice President Mike Pence “stupid” for suggesting that the US might pursue a nuclear disarmament agreement similar to the one agreed to by Libya in 2003. The North Korean official also indicated that a nuclear standoff could be on the table if negotiations break down.
The president followed up the withdrawal announcement with a televised address in which he said the US military is “ready if necessary”.
Mr Price said that the major shift could indicate that the White House is struggling to develop a coherent strategy for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear and missiles programmes, and that that lack of clarity is hurting the US internationally.
“There seems to be no strategy. There seems to be no principled approach. It seems to be fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants every single day, and Trump has tried to convey the notion that unpredictability is a good thing,” Mr Price said. “But, look, you look at where we are, and I think the poof is in the pudding in terms of that: We’re more isolated, we’re more at risk of war, and North Korea still has a nuclear arsenal.”
Mr Trump had planned on meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June, but the pre-meeting negotiations appeared shaky in the past week or so as the two countries tried to find common ground to start the negotiations.
The US had been pushing for a quick and immediate denuclearization from North Korea, and had repeatedly indicated that that level of commitment was necessary for the Trump administration to sit down at the negotiating table. North Korea had appeared reluctant to immediately give up their nuclear program quickly, and without assurances that they would be relieved from international sanctions.