Two weeks after the White House announced that President Donald Trump would accept an invitation to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in person by May, the State Department confirmed that they have not heard any word from Pyongyang on planning that summit.
North Korean state media has not published the news of the agreement, meaning the average North Korean is not aware that their leader invited President Trump to meet while both nations remain technically at war.
Speaking to reporters at a regular briefing on Thursday, State Department spokeswoman and acting Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Heather Nauert confirmed that the department was not in contact with their analogs in North Korea. She noted, however, that the government of South Korea was planning a meeting of high-level officials with the North, and American officials expected to receive more information about the Trump-Kim summit from that engagement. The invitation to Trump arrived following the conclusion of a diplomatic visit to Pyongyang by senior South Korean officials.
“I can tell you … that South Korea and North Korea are planning to have a meeting ahead of our summit, which—we have not announced any dates yet at this point,” Nauert explained. “They’re planning to have a meeting. We are in close coordination with the South Koreans and the Japanese, for that matter, about all of these meetings and all of these talks.”
Nauert did not confirm or deny reports that a three-way summit with North Korea and South Korea was possible, instead stating, “We’re still going under the operating premise that we will be meeting with North Korea.”
Asked specifically whether any direct communications had arrived from North Korea, Nauert said, “Not at this point, not at this point. I don’t have anything for you on that. I’ll let you know.”
Pressed on whether a summit of such magnitude could occur in the next two months without communication, Nauert lamented, “This is just complicated diplomacy … that’s just the way it works.”
The day after the White House announced the plan for the world leader and the tyrant to meet, North Korean state media published editorials condemning the “wicked U.S.” to its doom. On March 21, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the state-run newswire service, claimed that a “sign of change also in the DPRK [North Korea]-U.S. relations” had arrived but did not specify whether that meant the agreement between Trump and Kim to meet.
South Korean officials claimed last week that they had begun working to expedite the planning of the Kim-Trump summit, but provided no details. Seoul also hopes that Trump will be able to meet with leftist South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the near future. Some Seoul officials believe that Kim may be seeking a peace treaty to end the technically ongoing Korean War before he will commit to abandoning his illegal nuclear weapons program.
The South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo observes that, after a splashy appearance on the global stage during the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, Kim has largely “retreated into silence,” withdrawing his public spokesmen and keeping his propaganda outlets broadcasting their typical bellicose coverage against the Japanese. His most recent move was to send diplomats to Sweden, which triggered rumors that Kim may be shopping to use the Scandinavian country as a neutral site for the summit. Kim rarely ventures outside of Pyongyang, where he cannot control coverage of himself; it is highly unlikely that Trump would subject himself to total control under the North Korean regime within its borders.
Chosun sites several anonymous government sources who propose varying theories for why North Korea has gone silent. One suggests that the South Korean claim that Kim had vowed to denuclearize contradicts decades of North Korean state propaganda, leaving the regime in a bind. Another posits that “Kim Jong-un is probably monitoring the behavior of the U.S. and moves by other countries as he calculates his next move.”