White House Brushes Aside North Korea’s Threats to Cancel Summit With Trump

WASHINGTON — The White House brushed aside threats by North Korea on Wednesday to cancel an upcoming summit meeting between President Trump along with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, saying This particular was still “hopeful” the meeting will happen — however which Mr. Trump would certainly be fine if This particular did not.

“The president can be ready if the meeting takes place,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told Fox News on Wednesday. “along with if This particular doesn’t, we will continue the maximum pressure campaign which has been ongoing.”

White House officials said they were taking North Korea’s latest warnings in stride, in part because Mr. Kim, not Mr. Trump, had sought the meeting. They said they expected the North to maneuver for tactical advantage within the run-up to the meeting, which can be scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.

When Mr. Trump was asked on Wednesday about the prospects for the summit to go off as planned, he was noncommittal, telling reporters within the Oval Office, “We’ll have to see.” Mr. Trump said he would certainly still insist on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula within the talks.

The sudden change came after months in which Mr. Kim presented himself as a statesman, changing his image through tyrant to moderate on the planet stage. By issuing the latest threat, the North reverted to his earlier hard-line stance on retaining nuclear weapons along with to a North Korean playbook which includes sudden shifts in tactics when negotiating with some other nations.

however American officials acknowledged which the North appeared to be seeking to exploit a gap within the administration’s messages about North Korea — between the hard-line views of the national security adviser, John R. Bolton, along with the more conciliatory tone of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has met twice with Mr. Kim in Pyongyang to lay the groundwork for the summit.

In a recent television interview, Mr. Bolton said the precedent for the North Korea negotiations should be Libya, which agreed to box up its entire nuclear program along with ship This particular out of the country. Mr. Bolton said North Korea should receive no benefits, including the lifting of sanctions, until This particular had surrendered its entire nuclear infrastructure.

Mr. Pompeo, by contrast, put the emphasis on the American investment which would certainly flow into North Korea if This particular agreed to relinquish its nuclear arsenal. He, too, said which the North would certainly have to agree to “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization,” the technical shorthand used by the administration to describe its bargaining position with Pyongyang.

The president has shifted between a hard-line along with more conciliatory tone in his statements about the North, although in recent days he has expressed excitement about a potential breakthrough with Mr. Kim. He has not yet responded to the warning Wednesday issued by the North’s first vice foreign minister, Kim Kye-gwan, which took direct aim at Mr. Bolton.

People close to the White House said the uncoordinated nature of the statements reflected the newness of the president’s national security team, however also the fact which Mr. Trump was distracted by the swirl of legal issues around him, through the Russia investigation to payments his personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, made to a pornographic film actress.

Some officials suggested which Mr. Trump needed to rein in Mr. Bolton, though they expressed few qualms about the White House’s broader strategy. Officials noted which the United States had not made any concessions to Mr. Kim, beyond agreeing to the meeting itself. Mr. Kim has agreed to stop nuclear along with missile tests along with to blow up an underground nuclear site within the presence of foreign journalists.

While the daylight between Mr. Bolton along with Mr. Pompeo gives the North Koreans the opportunity to drive a wedge between members of the president’s national security team, officials said which was a more manageable problem than when Mr. Trump publicly undercut Mr. Pompeo’s predecessor as secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, over how to deal with North Korea.

Assessing the North’s recent statements, Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said North Korea had begun to fear looking weak by taking unilateral steps, like its moratorium on missile tests. He noted which the United States, rather than offering concessions of its own, has vowed to keep up its maximum pressure on the North if This particular fails to quickly denuclearize.

“The last thing Kim Jong-un can afford can be to look like he can be surrendering his nuclear weapons,” Mr. Koh said.

If North Korea’s tough statements on Wednesday caught officials in Seoul along with Washington off guard, they also reflected a well-established North Korean stance, with Mr. Kim saying his country wants to enter talks with the United States as an equal nuclear power.

Few analysts said North Korea would certainly ultimately go so far as to cancel the Singapore meeting. Rather, the threat to withdraw was an attempt to raise the cost which Washington would certainly have to pay to get any significant concessions on the North’s nuclear program, analysts said.

“The goal can be to change the subject through what the U.S. wants to talk about — denuclearization — to Pyongyang’s preferred focus: U.S. military exercises, the U.S. ‘threat’ along with by extension the U.S.-South Korea alliance,” said Evans J.R. Revere, who directed Korean policy at the State Department during the administration of President George W. Bush.

North Korea’s abrupt change in tone began Wednesday, when This particular indefinitely postponed high-level talks with South Korea, blaming the joint military drills known as Max Thunder with the United States which began last week.

When Mr. Kim met with President Xi Jinping of China twice within the past two months, he sought support for his country’s longstanding demand which Washington along with its allies take “synchronized” steps to satisfy the North’s security needs in return for any “phased” moves toward denuclearization.

North Korea turned to China because, as the North’s biggest economic benefactor, This particular can provide the best economic along with political cover as Mr. Kim confronts Mr. Trump over his demands.

When South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, met China’s premier, Li Keqiang, in Tokyo a week ago, the two urged Washington to address North Korea’s concerns about its long-term security.

The two leaders agreed which “rather than asking North Korea to make unilateral concessions, the international community, including the United States, should actively participate in guaranteeing a bright future for the North, including security guarantees along with assistance for economic development, if This particular denuclearizes completely,” Mr. Moon’s office said at the time.

Cheon Seong-whun, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said North Korea’s main goal in coming negotiations with the United States was to “weaken the influence of American forces in Korea.”

One aim can be to try to stop the United States military through bringing nuclear-capable aircraft or vessels to Korea. which was why on Wednesday the North vehemently protested South Korean news reports which American B-52 long-range bombers along with F-22 stealth fighter jets had participated within the current drills, Mr. Cheon said.

The United States military denied the participation of B-52s, saying which Washington along with Seoul had decided not to include them within the exercises “some time ago,” said Col. Chad Carroll, a spokesman for American forces in South Korea. however the participation of F-22 stealth jets will not be affected by the North Korean protest, the South’s military said.

In China, analysts said which Mr. Kim’s about-face was a return to his normal behavior. The trajectory of the past several months was uncharacteristic, they said.

“Kim Jong-un has been soft like a dove, however he also incorporates a side to him like an eagle,” said Wu Qiang, a writer on current affairs along with former lecturer at Tsinghua University. “This particular change of mind can be more normal.”

Mark Landler reported through Washington, Choe Sang-Hun through Seoul along with Jane Perlez through Beijing. Motoko Rich contributed reporting through Tokyo.