A senior White House official told reporters Thursday afternoon that North Korean officials failed to show up at preliminary meetings in advance of a scheduled meeting between President Donald Trump and dictator Kim Jong-un on June 12, prompting the cancelation of that meeting.
The official said that the North Koreans received every opportunity to continue these talks but stopped picking up the phone when the Americans called.
The official recounted the events that spawned consideration of a U.S.-North Korea summit and the events that led to President Trump’s decision to cancel the summit that had been planned for June 12.
On March 8, a delegation from South Korea visiting the United States delivered a message from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to President Trump. The message was that Kim was committed to denuclearization, pledged to refrain from any further nuclear tests, and that he understood that regular U.S. military exercises in the region would continue. In light of this, Trump accepted Kim’s invitation to meet in person. Since then, the U.S. has made significant efforts in good faith to plan the meeting, according to the senior official.
The North Korean regime criticized a joint military exercise between South Korea and the U.S. last week as “provocative military disturbances.” The North Koreans then broke off planned meetings with South Korea. “That constituted a broken promise,” the official said.
During U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s second trip to North Korea, the North Koreans agreed to meet again in Singapore ahead of the planned summit between Kim and Trump to establish the logistical details of the meeting. That meeting was to occur last week.
The White House sent its Deputy Chief of Staff and his advance team to Singapore to prepare and meet with North Korean officials to prepare for the summit. “They waited and they waited, the North Koreans never showed up,” the senior White House official said.
The official remarked that while it appears the North Koreans shut down a nuclear test site on Thursday, the U.S. still does not know if this is the case for sure, as experts have not been given the opportunity to inspect the site. The official said the White House hopes this is the case, but they do not know for sure.
The North Koreans had promised Sec. Pompeo that international experts and officials would be invited to witness and verify the destruction of this nuclear site. However, the official noted that the North Koreans broke this promise and, in the end, only journalists were invited to witness the event. It is possible that tunnels that are part of the site were not actually destroyed.
The senior White House official cited one of those journalists, Ben Tracy of CBS News, who has reported that they, as journalists, are not nuclear experts and could not verify whether the nuclear test site was actually closed. There were no experts on site to make such verification.
The United States has made several attempts over the past week to make contact with North Korean officials, but those attempts have not been successful.
The official recounted that last night marked the first communication the White House has seen from North Korea in the past week. The regime issued a threatening message as a propaganda release that in part invited the U.S. to “meet us in a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear to nuclear showdown.” It claimed that North Korea is a nuclear weapon state and singled out and attacked the Vice President of the United States.
“This strange lack of judgment, combined with the broken promises over the past weeks and North Korea’s suspension of direct communication with the United States, suggests a profound lack of good faith,” the senior official said.
The President’s goal has never been just a meeting, but the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Trump and Kim have communicated through intermediaries, including Pompeo, in the course of the planning process for talks, but not directly, according to the official. Trump has communicated constantly with allies about this meeting, including just this week with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The Trump administration was in contact with the South Koreans and Japanese on Thursday morning.
Asked what conditions would be needed to restore plans for a meeting, the official said they would need to see the opposite of the actions they have seen from the North Koreans in the past weeks.
Another reporter asked about the second meeting between Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump’s mention on Wednesday that there was a shift in attitude after that North Korea-China meeting. The reporter also asked about the role of John Bolton’s comments on using the Libya model.
The senior official referred back to a May 16 statement from a North Korean official that spoke of objecting to the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the [Korean] Peninsula” and U.S. statements that called for total decommissioning of nuclear weapons. The official noted this has been the U.S. policy all along and North Korea has previously expressed a commitment to denuclearization. The official added that the “shift in attitude” of North Korea after the second meeting with China “did not go unnoticed” by the U.S.
The U.S. policy of maximum pressure on North Korea will continue.
“The ball is really in North Korea’s court now,” said the official, adding that there is a “certain amount of actual dialogue that needs to take place” regarding the agenda of a meeting between Trump and the North Korean leader and that it would be tough to reinstate the June 12 date at this point.
The President was briefed last night on the statement from North Korea and slept on it. On Thursday morning, President Trump met with the Vice President and Chief of Staff John Kelly and spoke with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton. After considering those conversations, he dictated the letter to Kim canceling the summit.
China has given the U.S. assurances that it will continue to support sanctions on North Korea, according to the official.
The official spoke of a South Korean’s estimation that talks were 99 percent likely to continue and said that the South Koreans were hopeful that the talks would occur, as was President Trump. The official said that, during a recent White House lunch, President Trump “well informed” the South Koreans and President Moon of the skepticism for the U.S.-North Korea talks.
The official called the North Korean decision to attack the Vice President an “odd judgment call,” as was the talk of a “nuclear showdown.”
Conversations between the U.S. and South Korea, and the U.S. and Japan, involved administration officials just below President Trump, according to the official.
Asked whether there would be any additional sanctions on North Korea, the official said various departments are constantly considering additional sanctions and they continue to do so. The officials said the goal is maximum pressure and “we’re still short of that.”
The official said of the remaining potential of a Trump-Kim meeting that President Trump wants to give every opportunity for the right outcome for North Korea, its people, the United States, and allies of the United States. Trump is willing to pursue diplomacy as far as it can be pursued.
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