Sunday, August 19News That Matters

North Korea's threat casts doubt on Trump-Kim nuclear summit


President TrumpDonald John TrumpOregon governor to face state rep in November Ashford, Eastman neck and neck in Nebraska Dem primary Progressive pick Wild wins Dem primary for Pa. House seat MORE acknowledged Wednesday his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may not take place after Pyongyang threatened to scrap the historic meeting.

“We haven’t been notified at all. We’ll have to see,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office when asked if the summit was still on.

Asked if he thinks the North Korean leader is bluffing, Trump replied: “We’ll see what happens.”

North Korea threw the summit into doubt on Wednesday when it said Kim might not attend the June 12 meeting with Trump if the U.S. demands its “unilateral” nuclear disarmament.

The threat followed North Korea’s announcement a day earlier that it would pull out of high-level talks with South Korea, a decision it attributed to joint military exercises between the U.S. and the South.

Trump responded “yes” when a reporter asked if he would continue to insist on the full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

If the summit falls apart, it would be a major defeat for Trump, who has made nuclear diplomacy with North Korea his No. 1 foreign policy priority. Next month’s summit in Singapore would mark the first-ever meeting between leaders of the U.S. and North Korea.

The president has repeatedly talked up the potential for a nuclear deal with Kim, though regional experts have urged caution, noting that Pyongyang has repeatedly reneged on such agreements with Washington.

Just last year, Trump blasted the reclusive North Korean leader as “Little Rocket Man” for his repeated nuclear and ballistic missile tests. But more recently, Trump has called him “very honorable” for his pursuit of an agreement.

Trump’s measured comments on Wednesday indicate he is still holding out hope the summit will move forward.

“This is something that we fully expected,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday morning when asked about North Korea’s threat.

“The president is very used to and ready for tough negotiations,” she added. “And if they want to meet, we’ll be ready, and if they don’t, that’s OK too.”

Sanders said on Fox News the U.S. would keep up its “maximum pressure campaign” of nuclear-related sanctions against North Korea if the summit does not take place.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoRand Paul asks Haspel about any CIA surveillance of Trump North Korea warns US it could pull out of planned summit with Trump Five votes to watch in fight over Trump’s CIA nominee MORE called the foreign minister of Singapore on Wednesday, a sign that planning for the summit is still moving ahead.

Likewise, the Pentagon said it had no plans to change its military exercises with South Korea after news reports indicated they would no longer include B-52 heavy bombers. North Korea’s statement on Tuesday specifically criticized the inclusion of the nuclear-capable bombers.

“B-52s were never scheduled to be a part of Max Thunder,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Logan said in a statement Wednesday, referring to the name of the joint exercise. “The nature and scope of the exercise has not changed. … The regularly scheduled annual combined exercise is at a scale similar to that of the previous years.”

Senators on both sides of the aisle brushed off North Korea’s threat to cancel the talks as pre-summit posturing.

“I think people do things for domestic consumption, so at this point, again, I don’t read a lot into it,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump gives GOP midterm pep talk GOP senators don’t raise McCain in meeting with Trump Congress, Trump eye new agency to invest in projects overseas MORE (R-Tenn.) said.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThe Hill’s Morning Report — Sponsored by FICO — Republicans relieved as Blankenship loses Overnight Defense: Trump pulls US out of Iran nuke deal | Reaction and fallout | Obama calls decision a ‘serious mistake’ | Show of force for CIA pick | New questions after briefing on Niger GOP struggles with supporting Blankenship in West Virginia MORE (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also blamed internal pressure for Pyongyang’s latest statements, adding  that the “summit’s not dead.”

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinTrump roils the globe with Iran deal withdrawal Dem senator: Trump should apologize for aide’s joke about McCain’s health Small business chief touts early impact of tax cuts as other firms looks for benefits MORE (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was encouraged Trump has not overreacted.

“I’m not going to read too much into this,” Cardin said of North Korea’s threat. “I know there’ll be up and down moments. We need diplomacy to succeed.”

This week’s threats ended a run of good headlines for the Trump administration’s efforts to broker an agreement with North Korea. Just last week, Pompeo made a secret trip to North Korea to secure the release of three American detainees. He then flew them back to Washington, giving Trump a made-for-TV moment upon their arrival.

The negotiations with North Korea have grown more complex as the summit draws closer, with both sides laying out their demands. Pompeo sketched the rough outline of a deal last Sunday, saying the U.S. is prepared to offer economic assistance and security assurances to North Korea in exchange for denuclearization.

But a North Korean official said Wednesday that Kim was angered by national security adviser John Bolton’s suggestion that the Trump administration could use a “Libya model” with North Korea, comments the White House was forced to walk back on Wednesday.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was driven out of power with the help of NATO forces just eight years after striking an agreement with the U.S. to give up his nuclear weapons.

Some Democrats said the latest developments validate their concerns about the summit: that Trump might give away too much in order to win a deal.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHow the embassy move widens the partisan divide over Israel Hillicon Valley: Trump stuns lawmakers with push to help Chinese company | Facebook suspends 200 apps over data practices | Dems want answers on Cohen payments | Senate net neutrality vote coming Wednesday Harry Reid undergoes surgery for pancreatic cancer MORE (D-N.Y.) said Pyongyang’s threat shows the country is the same as it ever was.

“After weeks of halting progress, it is a reminder that the North Korean regime has not suddenly moderated,” Schumer said during a floor speech. “Kim Jong Un is baiting the president into making more concessions to ensure a meeting that was a concession to them in the first place.”

Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, also expressed pessimism about the summit’s chances of success.

“I don’t think there’s a summit now. I think North Korea has poisoned the well enough,” he said. “When it comes to North Korea, we cannot trust anything they say or do. It’s like making a deal with Michael Corleone or Lucifer.”

But Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said it’s too early to declare the summit dead.

“It ain’t over till it’s over,” Manning said.

Rather than intending to scuttle the talks, he said, North Korea may instead be trying to regain leverage over Trump.

“It’s more putting down markers so it doesn’t look like they’re surrendering,” he said.

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