WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump abruptly called off next month’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday, dispatching a letter to Kim that ratcheted up the verbal tensions between the two leaders.
“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,” Trump wrote in the letter, released Thursday morning by the White House.
The two were slated to meet for denuclearization talks on June 12 in Singapore, but in the past two weeks, the prospects of the meeting proceeding as planned seemed to diminish daily. North Korea withdrew from a scheduled meeting with South Korea last week, and North Korean officials expressed concerns that a meeting with the United States would be “one-sided.”
North Korean officials, in a statement issued early Friday, said the withdrawal was “unexpected” and “very regrettable,” but added that Kim was still willing to meet with the president.
“We reiterate to the U.S. that there is a willingness to sit down at any time, in any way to solve the problem,” read the statement.
Trump’s letter came hours after Choe Son Hui, a vice minister in the North Korean Foreign Ministry, called Vice President Mike Pence a “political dummy” for suggesting in public remarks that North Korea “will only end like the Libya Model ended” if it does not agree to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. Libya’s leader Moammar Gadhafi was killed by rebel forces in 2011, eight years after agreeing to denuclearize.
“Whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States,” Choe said in comments broadcast by North Korea’s state-run news agency.
Trump, who has been calling on Kim to abandon his nuclear weapons program, used Thursday’s letter to issue a warning to the North Korean leader about the strength of America’s nuclear weapons.
“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.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump added that he had already spoken to top U.S. military officials, and “they are ready if necessary.”
Trump canceled the meeting hours after North Korea made the dramatic claim that it had demolished its nuclear testing site in Punggye-ri.
North Korean officials had invited international media to witness the explosion of the site where the nation has said it tested six underground nuclear devices over the past decade.
However, some international observers were skeptical of the televised explosion, noting that Kim did not allow access to the testing site to determine the extent of the demolition.
A senior White House official, speaking to reporters on Thursday, said North Korea had initially promised the United States that international experts would have access to the site. Without such access, the official said, “We will not have forensic evidence that much was accomplished.”
The official said the restricted access was part of a recent “trail of broken promises” by the Kim regime that gave the administration “pause” about having the meeting.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who traveled twice to North Korea in the past month to meet with Kim and negotiate the terms of the meeting, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “over the past many days” the Trump administration had “received no response to our inquiries” regarding preparations for the meeting.
“We were fully, fully engaged over the past weeks to prepare for this meeting,” Pompeo said of the administration’s efforts.
The senior White House official later added that delegations from both countries were scheduled to meet in Singapore recently to hash out details for the summit, but North Korea “simply stood us up.”
Trump left open the possibility of holding talks with Kim in the future, telling him in the letter: “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call or write.”
He thanked Kim for releasing three Americans who had been detained in a North Korean labor camp on political charges. “That was a beautiful gesture and was very much appreciated,” Trump said.
South Korean officials who spoke to reporters Thursday appeared to be blindsided by news of the cancellation. Just two days earlier, South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in met with Trump at the White House in anticipation of the North Korea summit.
“We are attempting to make sense of what, precisely, President Trump means,” Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters, according to media reports.