- Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
- President Donald Trump on Thursday pulled a classic North Korean negotiating move by canceling his planned summit with Kim Jong Un.
- Within 12 hours of the cancellation, North Korea backtracked on threats to “reconsider” the summit.
- It now says it will meet Trump “at any time” should he reconsider, and Trump has also left the door open for future talks.
- Trump has shown he’s not desperate to talk to Kim at any cost, and it changed North Korea’s tune.
- Trump seemed pleased with North Korea’s response, calling it “warm and productive,” after criticizing previous statements as angry and hostile.
President Donald Trump took a page out of North Korea’s book Thursday by canceling his planned summit with Kim Jong Un, and now Pyongyang appears to be scrambling to save the summit.
Within 12 hours of the cancellation, which Trump blamed on North Korean hostility, Pyongyang backtracked on threats to “reconsider” the summit.
It instead insisted “we have the intent to sit with the US side to solve problem regardless of ways at any time.”
Trump said North Korea’s recent “tremendous anger and open hostility” toward the US made the summit inappropriate. Media from Pyongyang had been bashing senior Trump administration officials and even threatening nuclear war.
But North Korea on Friday seemed to sweep that under the rug, saying the hostility was “just a reaction to the unbridled remarks made by the US side which has long pressed the DPRK unilaterally to scrap nuclear program ahead of the DPRK-US summit.” (“DPRK” is the abbreviation of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.)
North and South Korea, in the Panmunjom Declaration made when Kim met South Korean President Moon Jae-in, have stressed a phased approach to denuclearization. The US reportedly favors a front-loaded agreement that would see North Korea abandon its weapons up-front.
Present in North Korea’s response was a sense of looking back in regret. The statement said North Korea “inwardly highly appreciated President Trump” for accepting the summit and praised him for the move.
“We even inwardly hoped that what is called ‘Trump formula’ would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue,” the statement continued, in a possible attempt at flattering Trump.
A page from North Korea’s book
- Newsmakers via Getty Images
North Korea is no stranger to talks with the US. The past four US presidents have all attempted diplomacy with Pyongyang, and all failed.
Typically, these talks end with North Korea walking away or taking provocative actions that force the US to walk away.
North Korea frequently cites “hostile” US policy as motivation to develop weapons and resist diplomatic solutions. Now, Trump has done that to North Korea.
As the summit approached, it became clear that North Korea had its own ideas of denuclearization and that they didn’t match those of the US.
South Korea “overestimated what the North means in terms of denuclearization and oversold it to Washington,” Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean nuclear negotiator, told Reuters.
But NBC News suggested that Trump sensed the disappointment hiding around the corner and sought to beat the North Koreans to the punch by exiting the summit so quickly he told neither South Korea nor Congress beforehand.
The door is still open
Above all, North Korea’s statement on Friday left the door open to future talks. Trump, in his letter to Kim Jong Un, did the same.
“Please do not hesitate to call or write,” Trump wrote in the conclusion of his letter.
“This looks more like a deferral than a cancellation. The tone of Trump’s letter is civil and diplomatic. There are lots of doors left open,” Robert Manning, senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, wrote of the letter.
For now, Trump has shown he’s not so desperate to talk to Kim that he’ll enter the talks from a weakened position, and with a single letter, he’s changed North Korea’s tune.
Trump seemed pleased with North Korea’s response on Friday, calling it “warm and productive.”
“We will soon see where it will lead, hopefully to long and enduring prosperity and peace. Only time (and talent) will tell!” Trump tweeted.