U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday there was a “substantial chance” his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will not take place as planned on June 12 amid concerns that Kim is resistant to giving up his nuclear weapons.
Trump raised doubts about the Singapore summit in talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who came to Washington to urge Trump not to let a rare opportunity with reclusive North Korea slip away.
If the summit is called off or fails, it would be a major blow to what Trump supporters hope will be the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency, and a huge disappointment for the president himself.
“There’s a very substantial chance … it won’t work out. And that’s OK,” Trump told reporters. “That doesn’t mean it won’t work out over a period of time. But it may not work out for June 12. But there is a good chance that we’ll have the meeting.”
Trump said whether the meeting will be held as scheduled will be determined “pretty soon.”
“North Korea has a chance to be a great country and I think they should seize the opportunity,” he said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later told reporters the Trump administration was still planning for a June 12 summit, but he declined to predict whether it would actually take place.
Trump’s Oval Office remarks were the strongest sign from him yet about the possibility of a delay or cancellation of what would be the first-ever summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea.
It was unclear whether Trump was truly backing away from the summit or whether he was strategically coaxing North Korea to the table after decades of tension on the Korean peninsula and antagonism with Washington over its nuclear weapons program.
The original purpose of Trump and Moon’s meeting was to fine-tune a joint strategy for dealing with Kim. Instead it has become more of a crisis session after Pyongyang last week threatened to pull out of the planned summit.
The White House was caught off guard when, in a dramatic change of tone, North Korea condemned the latest U.S.-South Korean air combat drills, suspended North-South talks and threw into doubt the summit with Trump if Pyongyang was pushed toward “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”
“Trump doesn’t want to look like he wants this summit more than Kim does,” said Bonnie Glaser, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“It’s a smart move to say that he is willing to postpone,” she said. “But to be credible, the president really has to be willing to walk away and I’m not sure he is.”