President Donald Trump was met with decidedly heated reactions Thursday after announcing he won’t be in Singapore on June 12 for a potentially historic denuclearization powwow with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
The White House Press Office released Trump’s letter announcing his decision not to attend the meeting, citing a recent statement from the rogue nation as the reason for the withdrawal.
“I was very much looking forward to being there with you,” Trump said in the letter. “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. Therefore, 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.”
Lawmakers, the media, and political experts responded to the announcement in various ways.
News outlets used the opportunity to express both concern and distaste for how the president is approaching the situation.
North Korean experts also shared different views on what the announcement could mean, with some noting it might not be the end.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) responded by saying he fully supports the decision.
“For two weeks now, North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un has been trying to sabotage the summit and set the United States up to take the blame,” Rubio said in a statement. “He made a big show of freeing hostages and supposedly dismantling a nuclear site to make himself appear reasonable and conciliatory. But in the end it is now apparent his goal was … to gain sanctions relief in exchange for nothing.”
But plenty of lawmakers disapproved of the president’s actions. South Korean President Moon Jae-in responded by saying the announcement was regrettable and unfortunate, according to USA Today.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and others blamed the setback on how Trump has conducted the talks.
“You cannot begin a negotiation with North Korea by advocating for the worst conclusion for its leader and expect that negotiation to succeed,” Markey said in a statement. “When Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser John Bolton declared that Libya was a model for persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, they confirmed Kim Jong-un’s deep-seated fears that the upcoming negotiations would be nothing more than a tactic to invade and disarm his country.”
Mainstream media reaction was predictably negative. Columnist Matthew Yglesias of Vox, for example, dismissed the announcement outright by asking why anyone would take the president’s diplomatic strategy seriously. Vox also claimed the collapse of the talks is likely better than any realistic alternative.
North Korean experts were not so quick to rule out talks in the future. Trump closed the letter by inviting Kim Jong-un to call or write if he wants to resume the talks seriously.
“What I see in their respective statements are threats to walk away, but also formulations of different opening negotiating positions and a discussion about the scope, timing and elements for the process of denuclearization,” Scott A. Snyder, senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), told LifeZette.
“Both of their statements contain clauses that leave open the possibility of returning to direct talks. So the timing of the summit, I think, may be in question, but in terms of a process by which both sides could get to a summit meeting, I think that way is still clear,” he said.
North Korea has a long history of agreeing to deals, then never following through on its end of the bargains. Kim is also not likely to give up his nuclear program easily, so talks could take a long time if they do continue.
“They really need to come to an understanding of the denuclearization issue in order to justify a summit meeting,” said Snyder, who serves as CFR’s director of U.S. and Korean policy. “I think they needed more time. The gap wasn’t going to be closed in time and I think both sides are fixed on their respective positions and how to come to a better understanding.”
Snyder added that Trump seems very much interested in achieving the denuclearization objective, and the recent statements from North Korea and the possibility of delay could be evidence that neither side is willing to settle merely for an event.
But other experts suggested no good outcome could come from what the president is doing.
The goal is to force Kim Jong-un to abandon his country’s nuclear program, not just the promise of doing so.
“In a contest of who can be the most erratic leader, President Trump beats Kim Jong-un hands-down,” Stimson Center senior follow Joel Wit told LifeZette. “His unsteady hand has left everyone scratching their heads, including our South Korean allies. No one knows where this is going to lead, but it will not be good for the United States.”
Wit is also the founder of 38 North, a website devoted to analysis of North Korea. It was originally a project by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. The Stimson Center acquired the project after the unexpected end of the US-Korea Institute.
Trump has deployed what he refers to as a maximum pressure campaign against North Korea. His administration has worked with allies to impose strict economic sanctions on the country. The goal is to force Kim Jong-un to abandon its nuclear program, not just the promise of doing so.
“The maximum pressure campaign is still in place,” Snyder said. “It’s going to keep on going. The administration is probably waiting for signals from the North Koreans that they want to continue the conversation and vice versa. I’m sure North Korea also wants a signal that the U.S. is ready to continue the conversation.”
Future talks, Snyder added, should be accompanied by a better understanding between the two countries. He noted that holding a big historic event before the gap is bridged could instead turn out to be hollow.