WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump expressed confidence Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is "serious" about negotiating over denuclearization, but he acknowledged a "substantial chance" that a summit planned for June 12 in Singapore could fall through.
"We're moving along. We'll see what happens," Trump told reporters at the White House, after welcoming South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a meeting. "If it doesn't happen, maybe it will happen later."
Later Trump said: "It may not work out for June 12."
The uncertainty comes after recent hard-line rhetoric from Pyongyang that has alarmed Trump administration officials and complicated the summit planning. A high-ranking Kim aide last week blasted national security adviser John Bolton, who had suggested the North Koreans would be expected to fully relinquish their nuclear weapons program before receiving reciprocal benefits from the United States.
Administration officials have emphasized that Trump remains committed to meeting with Kim but that they have to nail down key details for the summit, including the agenda and security logistics.
Trump appeared to suggest Kim could be having second thoughts because he's leading North Korea into an uncertain future.
"There are certain conditions we want, and I think we'll get those conditions," Trump said, though he did not offer details. "If we don't, we won't" hold the summit, he said.
Trump added that "North Korea has a chance to be a great country. It can't be a great country under the circumstances they're living in right now. I think they should seize the opportunity, and we'll soon find out whether or not they want to do that."
Setting the stakes sky high, Moon said, "The fate and the future of the Korean Peninsula hinge" on the meeting.
The U.S. president also attempted to reassure Kim that he would remain in power under a deal to relinquish North Korea's nuclear weapons.
"I will guarantee his safety, yes," Trump said. "He will be safe, he will be happy, his country will be rich, his country will be hardworking and prosperous."
If Kim strikes a deal, Trump added, "He will be able to look back and be very proud of what he did for North Korea and, actually, for the world."
Moon, who met with Kim last month at the Demilitarized Zone between South Korea and North Korea, is expected to encourage Trump to follow through.
South Korea's national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters traveling with Moon from Seoul that the U.S.-North Korea summit is still likely to happen.
"We believe there is a 99.9 percent chance the North Korea-U.S. summit will be held as scheduled," he said. "But we're just preparing for many different possibilities."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also acknowledged efforts to follow through with the plans.
"This could be something that comes right to the end and doesn't happen," he said. But he added that as of now, "we're driving on."
Sitting next to Trump in the Oval Office, Moon on Tuesday praised the president for his efforts on North Korea, saying Trump "has been able to achieve this dramatic change" in Kim's willingness to engage with foreign leaders. Over the past two months, the North Korean leader has made three trips outside his country -- two to China and one over the border to South Korea -- for the first time since taking power in 2011.
As he has before, Trump suggested that Pyongyang's shift to a more belligerent tone over the past week was the result of Kim's second meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Trump said he'd noticed "a little change" in Kim's attitude after the trip.
"I don't like that," he said.
The president added that he hoped Xi was actually committed to the goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, calling him a "world-class poker player." Trump said he was displeased by China's softening of border enforcement measures against North Korea.
Beijing remains intent on ensuring that a nuclear deal would not draw North Korea closer to the United States and away from China's influence.
Moon said he has "every confidence" that Trump could reach a deal with Kim that would formally end the Korean War and bring "peace and prosperity" to North Korea.
"It's been a relationship that seems to be working," Trump said of his relationship with Kim, though he declined to say if he has spoken directly with the North Korean leader.
Experts in South Korea said there was still considerable hope for the Trump-Kim meeting and that the White House should not get rattled.
"There may be a sense here that the Trump team is overreacting to North Korea's push-back last week and losing sight of the big picture," said John Delury, an associate professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in South Korea.
"Of course, gaps remain in terms of negotiating peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Delury said. "That's the reason a negotiation is necessary."
In North Korea on Tuesday, a small group of foreign journalists arrived to cover the dismantling of the country's nuclear test site later this week.
Hours later, South Korea said the North would allow its journalists to join after earlier refusing to allow them into the country to witness the event, raising worries about the prospect for recently improving ties.
The eight South Korean journalists had been excluded because Pyongyang has cut off high-level contact with Seoul to protest an exercise with the U.S. military. The North's media reiterated that protest Tuesday, saying saber-rattling and dialogue don't mix.
Pyongyang is allowing the limited access to the site to publicize its promise to halt underground tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles. It unilaterally announced that moratorium ahead of the Trump-Kim summit.
The group that arrived Tuesday by charter flight from Beijing is made up of journalists from the U.K., Russia, China and the United States. The journalists will stay at a hotel in the port city of Wonsan on North Korea's east coast before traveling by train to the site, which is in the northeastern part of the country.
The dismantling ceremony is expected to be held in the coming days, depending on the weather.
The North's decision to close the Punggye-ri nuclear test site has generally been seen as a welcome gesture by Kim to set a positive tone ahead of his summit with Trump.
But it is mainly just a gesture.
The North has already conducted six underground tests at the site -- including its most powerful ever, in September -- and Kim told ruling party leaders last month that further testing is unnecessary.
North Korea could build a new site if it decides it needs more testing, or could dismantle the tunnels into Punggye-ri's Mount Mantap in a reversible manner. Details of what will actually happen at the site are sparse, but Pyongyang's apparent plan to show the closure of the site to journalists, not international nuclear inspectors, has been raised as a matter of concern.
The North's decision to exclude the South Korean media, however, signaled further discord.
The South Koreans initially were left behind in Beijing after the North refused to grant them visas. South Korea's government expressed regret over the decision.
The exclusion, a departure from the conciliatory mood between the Koreas since the South hosted the Olympics in February, had appeared to deepen a standoff that began last week when Pyongyang signaled it would cut off all high-level talks with Seoul in response to the joint military exercises.
The North's official media slammed the drills again Tuesday.
"If the U.S. and the South Korean authorities persist in the confrontation policy and war moves against the DPRK, oblivious of this fact, they will be held wholly accountable for all the ensuing consequences," said a commentary in the daily Minju Joson. "Dialogue and saber rattling can never go together."
DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
Another report in North Korean media took issue with the credit given to the U.S. for decreased tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
"There are some arguments describing the improvement of the situation on the Korean Peninsula as 'result of hard-line diplomacy' of the U.S. and 'result of sustained pressure,'" said the report by the official Korean Central News Agency. "It seriously chills the atmosphere of the DPRK-U.S. dialogue and is of no help to the development of the situation."
Yet another article lashed out at South Korean authorities for allowing defectors to send anti-North Korea leaflets across their border.
It noted that the two leaders agreed at their summit in the Demilitarized Zone last month not to conduct hostile acts against each other and said the authorities have an obligation under that agreement to block such actions, even by private citizens.
"If the North-South relations face a grave difficulty again owing to the provocation of human scum, the blame for it will be entirely on the South Korean authorities," the report said. "They must know what price they will be made to pay."
Information for this article was contributed by David Nakamura of The Washington Post; by Mark Landler of The New York Times; and by Zeke Miller, Catherine Lucey, Ken Thomas, Eric Talmadge and by other staff members of The Associated Press.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in praised President Donald Trump during their White House meeting Tuesday, saying Trump “has been able to achieve this dramatic change” in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s willingness to engage with foreign leaders.
A White House coin to commemorate a planned summit in June between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un was displayed this week at the White House. The meeting “may not work out for June 12” but could happen later, Trump said Tuesday.
A Section on 05/23/2018
Print Headline: Chance Kim summit a no-go, Trump says; South Korean ‘99.9%’ sure of meeting