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Trump: North Korea summit may be delayed

Footage of President Donald Trump and North Korean

Footage of President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is shown during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea on May 11. Photo Credit: AP / Lee Jin-man

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump labored with South Korea's Moon Jae-in Tuesday to keep the highly anticipated U.S. summit with North Korea on track after Trump abruptly cast doubt that the June 12 meeting would come off. Setting the stakes sky high, Moon said, "The fate and the future of the Korean Peninsula hinge" on the meeting.

The summit, planned for Singapore, offers a historic chance for peace on the peninsula — but also the risk of an epic diplomatic failure that would allow the North to revive and advance its nuclear weapons program.

Trump's newfound hesitation appeared to reflect recent setbacks in efforts to bring about reconciliation between the two Koreas, as well as concern whether the self-proclaimed dealmaker can deliver a nuclear accord with the North's Kim Jong Un.

In an extraordinary public airing of growing uncertainty, Trump said "there's a very substantial chance" the meeting won't happen as scheduled.

Seated in the Oval Office with Moon, Trump said Kim had not met unspecified "conditions" for the summit. However, the president also said he believed Kim was "serious" about negotiations, and Moon expressed "every confidence" in Trump's ability to hold the summit and bring about peace.

"I have no doubt that you will be able to ... accomplish a historic feat that no one had been able to achieve in the decades past," Moon said.

U.S. officials said preparations for the summit were still underway despite recent pessimism — and privately suggested there would be additional public maneuvering as both sides seek to maximize their leverage. Both parties to the talks are invested in holding the meeting, with Kim seeing an opportunity for international legitimacy and Trump the prospect of securing Korean stability — and perhaps a Nobel Peace Prize.

"This could be something that comes right to the end and doesn't happen," said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. But he added that as of now, "we're driving on." South Korea's national security adviser put the chance of the summit taking place at 99.9 percent.

Trump suggested that it could be delayed rather than canceled: "It may not work out for June 12, but there is a good chance that we'll have the meeting."

He did not detail the conditions he had laid out for Kim but said if they aren't met, "we won't have the meeting." Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump was referring to a commitment to seriously discuss denuclearization.

Skepticism about the North's intentions have mounted in recent weeks after Kim's government pulled out of planned peace talks with the South last week, objecting to long-scheduled joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces. The North also threatened to abandon the planned Trump-Kim meeting over U.S. insistence on rapidly denuclearizing the peninsula, issuing a harshly worded statement that the White House dismissed as a negotiating ploy.

Moon sought to project optimism after his meeting with Trump. His spokesman, Yoon Young-chan, told reporters that the two leaders agreed to do their best to ensure the meeting happens on June 12. Yoon said Moon told Trump that the North Korean leader was strongly committed to the meeting and the leaders agreed that any assistance to North Koreawould come after complete denuclearization. High-level talks between the North and South would likely happen after June 25.

In North Korea itself, foreign journalists arrived to watch the dismantling of a nuclear test site this week in a significant concession before the Trump talks.

However, fresh questions were raised Tuesday about the North's goals and motives, with the disclosure of a Pentagon report to Congress saying that nuclear weapons are central to North Korea's strategic goal of ensuring the perpetual rule of the Kim family dynasty. The report on North Korea's military capabilities was based on an assessment of developments in 2017 and was provided to Congress in April. It was posted online by an anti-secrecy group.

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