By CRISTIANO LIMA
North Korea signaled its willingness to engage in talks with the United States “at any time, at any format,” just hours after President Donald Trump on Thursday canceled his planned summit with Kim Jong Un and scolded the North Korean leader in a letter for “tremendous anger and open hostility” while bluntly reminding Kim of the United States’ nuclear prowess.
Kim Kye Gwan, first vice minister of foreign affairs, issued a statement on Friday, local time, saying the North was “willing to give the U.S. time and opportunities” to reconsider talks, The Associated Press reported.
He added that his country’s “objective and resolve to do our best for the sake of peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and all humankind remain unchanged.”
The conciliatory language stood in contrast to a statement, made overnight Wednesday, in which another vice minister of foreign affairs, Choe Son Hui, warned that Pyongyang could “make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined.”
Trump wrote in his letter to Kim Jong Un: “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.”
The scuttling of the summit, which had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, is a blow to U.S. efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, as well as Trump’s desire to land a legacy-making deal with the hermetic nation.
Despite the North’s recent softer tone, the cancellation also raises the risk of conflict in East Asia and has rattled U.S. allies South Korea and Japan.
Trump and his aides sought to pin the blame for the canceled meeting entirely on North Korea. During a televised public address midday Thursday from the White House’s Roosevelt Room, Trump directly linked the decision to recent inflammatory remarks made by North Korean officials.
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In her statement, issued through official state media, Choe had said that if talks were canceled, the U.S. and North Korea could instead engage in a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”
She also referred to Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy“ for his recent comments defending national security adviser John Bolton.
Bolton had suggested that the U.S. wanted to pursue a nuclear deal with North Korea similar to the one it struck with Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi in the early 2000s.
But North Korea took that as a negative sign because Qadhafi was ousted and killed several years after giving up his nuclear program.
A senior White House official said the statement was simply the latest in a “trail of broken promises“ that led Trump to abandon the talks. Last week, North Korean officials failed to show up in Singapore for a series of meetings to lay the groundwork for the presidential summit, the official said, declaring: “They simply stood us up.“
In recent days, the North Koreans have also been unresponsive to U.S. attempts to reach them. “We simply couldn’t get them to pick up the phone,“ the official said.
In addition, the North Korean government did not keep its promise to invite experts to observe what it has said was the closure of one of its nuclear test sites, casting doubt on what really happened, the official said.
Pyongyang exhibited “a profound lack of good faith,“ said the official, who sidestepped questions on the role that Bolton‘s and Pence’s comments may have played.
Responding to the cancellation, South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, urged the leaders of the United States and North Korea to talk directly to each other.
“Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of permanent peace are historic tasks that can neither be abandoned nor delayed,“ Moon said in an emergency meeting with his top security officials at his office on Friday, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
Trump was briefed on North Korea‘s harsh statement on Wednesday night, and slept on the matter before deciding on Thursday morning to call off the summit, according to the White House official.
In his letter — which was released publicly Thursday morning and, according to a senior White House official, was dictated entirely by the president — Trump made sure to remind North Korea of the United States’ formidable nuclear arsenal, hearkening back to when the president boasted that his nuclear button was “bigger and more powerful“ than Kim‘s.
“You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used,“ Trump wrote.
Trump, however, also thanked Kim for the “wonderful dialogue” that had developed in recent weeks between the two nations while leaving the door open to a rescheduled summit in the future.
“If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write,” the president said. “The world, and North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth.”
He added: “This missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history.”
The president, later delivering remarks alongside Pence and other administration officials prior to the signing of a financial reform bill, even broached the possibility of the summit resuming as originally scheduled. “It‘s possible that the existing summit could take place, or a summit at some later date,“ he said.
The letter‘s stunning reversal came after the president suggested earlier this week that plans for the meeting might be delayed amid renewed tension with the North Korean government, which last week criticized the U.S. for engaging in joint military exercises with South Korea and appeared to back away from their pledge to discuss de-nuclearization.
Trump on Tuesday declared that “it may not work out for June 12” regarding the planned meeting in Singapore between him and Kim. The president on Wednesday said a decision would be made “next week“ about whether the summit would go on as scheduled, amid reports that high-level U.S. and North Korean officials were set to hold a pivotal planning meeting over the weekend in Singapore.
Testifying before lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said North Korean officials had failed to respond to inquiries from the U.S. about gathering “preparation teams” ahead of the summit.
“We had received no response to our inquiries from them,“ he said. Pompeo, who helped launch negotiations with North Korea with a secretive visit to Pyongyang earlier this year, told legislators that he was involved in crafting the president‘s letter, but that the cancellation decision ultimately fell to Trump.