WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Thursday canceled a planned summit next month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, citing "tremendous anger and open hostility" from the rogue nation in a letter explaining his decision.
"I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting," Trump said to Kim in a letter released Thursday morning by the White House.
The summit -- which had the potential to be a major diplomatic victory for Trump -- had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.
Speaking later at the White House, Trump said the U.S. military is "ready if necessary" to take action against North Korea if it engages in a "foolish or reckless act" and that South Korea and Japan are willing to shoulder the costs.
At the same time, Trump made clear that he is keeping open the possibility of a summit at a future date.
"While many things can happen and a great opportunity lies ahead potentially, I believe this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and indeed a setback for the world," Trump said, adding that the United States would continue to impose tough economic sanctions on that country.
North Korea issued a statement today saying it is still "willing to give the U.S. time and opportunities" to reconsider talks "at any time, at any format."
Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan called Trump's decision "unexpected" and "very regrettable," and said the cancellation of the talks shows "how grave the status of historically deep-rooted hostile North Korea-U.S. relations is and how urgently a summit should be realized to improve ties."
"Leader Kim Jong Un had focused every effort on his meeting with President Trump," the official added.
South Korea's government seemed blindsided by Trump's announcement.
"We are attempting to make sense of what, precisely, President Trump means," said government spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the cancellation was "disconcerting and very regrettable," adding that the current communication between North Korea and the United States does not work to resolve the disputes between the two nations. He urged Trump and Kim to talk directly.
"The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and building a permanent peace on the peninsula is a task we cannot give up or delay," Moon said in a meeting Thursday with his national security council, according to his office.
Shortly before midnight in Seoul, Moon called an emergency meeting to discuss Trump's decision, summoning his chief of staff, national security adviser, foreign minister, unification minister and intelligence chief to the presidential Blue House.
In his letter, Trump held open the possibility that he and Kim could meet at a later date to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which Trump has been pushing.
The decision came after hostile warnings from North Korea in recent days that it was reconsidering participation, including a statement that the United States must decide whether to "meet us in a meeting room or encounter us at [a] nuclear-to-nuclear showdown."
A close aide to Kim unleashed a torrent of invective against the Trump administration Thursday morning, calling Vice President Mike Pence a "political dummy" for remarks he made Monday in a television interview that referred to the downfall of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
North Korea has bristled at Trump administration suggestions that it follow the "Libyan model" to abandon its nuclear efforts. Gadhafi was killed in 2011 in a Western-backed intervention after giving up his nuclear materials in 2003 and 2004.
"I was very much looking forward to being there with you," Trump said in his letter to Kim. "The world, and North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth."
White House aides had grown concerned because North Korea had not responded to planning requests on the summit and had canceled a logistics meeting, said a senior White House official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the issue.
A former senior U.S. official familiar with aspects of the planning said the two sides had not yet agreed on a draft communique, the usually bland statement issued at the close of diplomatic summits. The statement is typically worked out far in advance, and the absence of that draft had been a red flag to diplomats over the past week, the official said.
Trump's decision came less than 24 hours after Moon returned to Seoul from a meeting at the White House.
Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean nuclear negotiator with the North, said it was better to have no summit than a disastrous summit.
"It is true that Trump overreacted to the petty game North Korea was playing to improve its hand," Chun said. "But if North Korea is not serious about denuclearization as understood generally, it would have been dangerous to hold the summit as scheduled."
The news of Trump's decision broke late in the evening, Asian time, and Chinese officials did not immediately respond.
But in a tweet published shortly after Trump's announcement, Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, a Communist Party-controlled paper known for its strident nationalism, criticized the move.
"The decision of US President Donald Trump was announced a few hours after North Korea dismantled its nuclear test site. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must have felt that he was tricked by Trump," he wrote, "Many people would think so too."
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a staunch Kim ally, said the North Korean leader had in fact done "everything that he had promised in advance, even blowing up the tunnels and shafts" of his country's nuclear testing site. Putin said of Trump's announcement, "In Russia we took this news with regret."
The announcement immediately reverberated on Capitol Hill. At the outset of a budget hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo read Trump's letter.
In reaction to the canceled summit, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the committee, admonished the Trump administration for a "lack of deep preparation."
He also questioned why U.S. officials repeatedly raised the prospect of the "Libya model" as a road map for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
"I'm not sure that constantly quoting the Libya model is the diplomatic way to try to get to the results that we try to seek in North Korea," he said.
The "Libya model" comments were first made by national security adviser John Bolton.
Pompeo objected to Menendez's characterization of a lack of planning, saying the U.S. negotiation team was "fully prepared."
"We were fully engaged over the past weeks to prepare for this meeting," he said.
In explaining the summit's demise, Pompeo noted that there was a breakdown in communication in recent days between the U.S. and North Korean preparation teams. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that the North Koreans missed a scheduled meeting in Singapore last week between the preparation teams.
Pompeo said the lack of response was an additional reason for Trump's decision.
"We got a lot of dial tones, senator," he told committee chairman Bob Corker.
Nonetheless, the secretary of state said he hopes to restart conversations with the North Koreans and get the talks "back on track."
Later Thursday, Kang Kyung-wha, the South Korean foreign minister, and Pompeo spoke on the phone and agreed to continue working toward creating the right conditions for the U.S. and North Korea to talk, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
DEFENDERS OF DECISION
The president's allies defended the Trump administration's decision to walk out.
Trump had his "eyes wide open throughout the process," said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who serves on the Foreign Relations panel. "He made the right choice" because Kim walked away from his commitment to denuclearize, Gardner said.
"North Korea has a long history of demanding concessions merely to negotiate. While past administrations of both parties have fallen for this ruse, I commend the president for seeing through Kim Jong Un's fraud," said Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
In a statement after Trump's announcement, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said it was important for the United States to maintain pressure on North Korea through economic sanctions.
"We must continue to work with our allies toward a peaceful resolution, but that will require a much greater degree of seriousness from the Kim regime," Ryan said. "At the same time, Congress has provided significant tools to hold North Korea accountable, and it is important that the United States not relent in this maximum pressure campaign."
As recently as Wednesday, Trump did not tip his hand that he intended to cancel the meeting with Kim.
During an television interview that was taped Wednesday and aired Thursday morning, he said he might accept a "phase-in" of North Korea's denuclearization.
"We're going to see. I'd like to have it done immediately," Trump said on Fox & Friends on Fox News. "But, you know, physically, a phase-in may be a little bit necessary. We will have to do a rapid phase-in, but I'd like to see it done at one time."
Even in the heightened rhetoric, there were signs that North Korea continued to be interested in a summit.
North Korea claimed to have destroyed its nuclear weapons testing site Thursday, setting off a series of explosions to collapse a network of underground tunnels where it had detonated six increasingly large bombs over 11 years.
The North set off a series of made-for-TV blasts that were reported by journalists taken to the site. But the Kim regime did not allow any experts to observe the events, making it difficult to assess what exactly had been done. Most analysts remain doubtful that North Korea is actually prepared to give up its nuclear weapons program.
Trump's move so blindsided the North Koreans that the invited foreign journalists learned about the cancellation on their smartphones -- even before some of their hosts did.
One of the journalists, Will Ripley from CNN, read the text of Trump's withdrawal letter to their official North Korean chaperones on the return train ride from the remote nuclear test site, Punggye-ri.
"I can tell you there was a real sense of shock," Ripley said in a phone interview with CNN. "They immediately got up and left."
North Korea had invited mostly TV journalists to ensure that its action would be broadcast worldwide. But it waited until just a day before the event to let South Korean journalists into the country.
Trump, in his letter, also referred to what was widely interpreted as another positive gesture from Kim: the release of three American prisoners into the custody of Pompeo during his visit to North Korea earlier this month.
"That was a beautiful gesture and was very much appreciated," Trump wrote.
Information for this article was contributed by John Wagner, John Hudson, Anna Fifield, Anne Gearan, Josh Dawsey, Seung Min Kim, Scott Clement and David Nakamura of The Washington Post; by Catherine Lucey, Zeke Miller, Matthew Lee, Ted Anthony, Deb Riechmann, Lisa Mascaro, Ken Thomas, Darlene Superville and Jonathan Lemire of The Associated Press; and by Mark Landler, Eileen Sullivan and Choe Sang-Hun of The New York Times.
South Korean President Moon Jae-In listens during a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, in Washington.
A Section on 05/25/2018
Print Headline: North Korea summit's off, Trump states