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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis: Diplomats Still at Work on the North Korea Summit

Jim Mattis, Joseph Dunford
The Associated Press

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on Friday morning that the U.S. summit with North Korea may still happen, after President Trump announced its cancelation the day before.

“We have got some, possibly some good news on the Korea summit, where it may, if our diplomats can pull it off, may have it back on even,” he said.

“That is a usual give and take, you know, of trying to put together big summits and stuff. The diplomats are still at work,” he told reporters, before a meeting with his Danish counterpart at the Pentagon.

Mattis also said the U.S. military had no plans to ramp up military exercises near the Korean peninsula, emphasizing that diplomacy was still in the lead.

“We are not changing anything right now, it is steady as she goes. The diplomats are in the lead and in charge and we give them our best wishes to have a fruitful way forward,” he said.

State Department Press Secretary Heather Nauert sounded equally optimistic, saying that the U.S. hoped the summit with North Korea would go forward “at some point.”

“We always knew there would be twists and turns leading up to this meeting on June 12. We never expected it to be easy, so none of this comes as a surprise to us,” Nauert said at the Naval Academy, where the president spoke at a graduation ceremony for cadets.

She said she was there to see her brother graduate from the Naval Academy as a U.S. Marine. National Security Adviser John Bolton, who had accompanied the president, was also in attendance.

“Secretary Pompeo, the president, national security adviser [John] Bolton have all been very closely coordinated on this. So we hope that the meeting will go forward at some point,” she said.

Trump canceled the summit with North Korea planned for June 12 in Singapore, after North Korean officials took a number of actions that signaled unwillingness to go forward.

A senior White House official said Thursday that a North Korea team failed to show up to a scheduled meeting in Singapore with senior U.S. officials.

In addition, the North Koreans had also not responded to U.S. inquiries, and had released a statement on Wednesday criticizing Vice President Mike Pence and threatening a nuclear showdown.

“We weren’t getting the right signals previously, so hopefully we will in the future,” Nauert said.

“But we didn’t want to go to a meeting just for the sake of going to a meeting. There had to be something to come out of it. So we weren’t getting the right signals,” she said.

She said she did not think Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and secured the release of three U.S. hostages — was personally disappointed.

“It’s diplomacy and you always know things are going to have high points and low points. And that’s exactly what a negotiation is,” she said. “We are working on plans going forward.”

Earlier on Friday, Trump told reporters there was still a possibility for the summit to take place on June 12.

“We’ll see what happens. It could even be the 12th. We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it. We’re going to see what happens.”

Asked by a reporter if North Korea “is playing games,” Trump responded, “Everybody plays games. You know that better than anybody.”

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