WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump spoke late Saturday to the South Korean president as concerns grow inside the White House that North Korea is not serious about denuclearization.
On the call, which lasted less than 30 minutes, Trump sought South Korean President Moon Jae-in's interpretation of North Korea's shift to a harder-line position last week, a sharp contrast to the more positive and constructive tone after Moon met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un last month, according to a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the conversation.
North Korea's actions in recent days, including its cancellation of a working-level meeting with South Korean officials and a threat to call off Kim's Singapore summit with Trump on June 12, has created new complications in the preparations, with just over three weeks left.
An advance team from the United States is in Singapore to work out logistics, Trump administration officials said.
Aides emphasized that Trump remains committed to meeting with Kim but that time is running out to nail down an agenda and finalize several outstanding issues.
The senior U.S. official said Pyongyang appears to be trying to extract more concessions from the United States before the summit, or to be building a narrative to blame Trump if things go poorly in Singapore or to pull out of the summit entirely.
Among the administration's concerns is that although the Kim regime promised to destroy its nuclear test site, North Korea has not sanctioned any foreign inspectors or journalists to enter the country to confirm that such a process is underway.
Last week, a top Kim aide blasted national security adviser John Bolton, a North Korea hawk who has suggested the United States won't lift economic sanctions until Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear program.
Many foreign policy and nuclear security experts said it remains highly unlikely that North Korea would be willing to abandon its program and that Kim's goal is to establish himself on the world stage as the powerful leader of a nuclear-armed state.
Moon is scheduled to visit Trump at the White House on Tuesday to coordinate strategy ahead of the Singapore summit.
A liberal who took office last year, Moon has been an instrumental player in the diplomatic outreach to Pyongyang, having restarted long-dormant talks ahead of the Winter Olympics, which were held in South Korea.
That led to talks between the two countries, during which Kim offered to meet with Trump. The president accepted the invitation in March.
But Trump's decision has been fraught with risk, given that former U.S. diplomats who have negotiated with North Korea under previous administrations have warned that the Kim family regime has a long history of violating international agreements to curb the nation's nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile programs.
Trump administration officials said they believe Kim, after the notable images of him holding hands with Moon at the inter-Korea summit in late April, has shifted back to a harder-line position.
Trump said last week that he believes the tone changed after Kim's second visit to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China has accounted for 90 percent of trade with North Korea, and Beijing's cooperation in enacting U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea has been a crucial part of the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" strategy.
Trump's concerns over China's influence in the summit with Kim were reflected in the president's tweet last week in which he declared that his administration was looking at ways of potentially assisting ZTE, a Chinese phone-maker that was struggling in the wake of U.S. economic sanctions.
Trump's public pronouncement was aimed, in part, at trying to keep the Chinese pressure on North Korea, said an administration official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
A Section on 05/21/2018
Print Headline: Trump, S. Korean confer in call about North's shift