President Trump issued a statement on Thursday morning canceling the historic June 12 summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. The statement thanked Kim for releasing American “hostages,” and bragged about America’s “massive and powerful” nuclear arsenal.
Trump cited recent comments out of North Korea as showing “tremendous anger and open hostility,” saying it would be inappropriate to attend the Singapore summit. He said a future summit was still possible, and invited North Korea to “call or write” if they want to try it again.
This puts a cap, at least temporarily, on four months of diplomatic overtures by North Korea, starting with the Winter Olympics. After the first overtures toward South Korea, the process quickly picked up pace, with Trump praising North Korea’s efforts, and ultimately agreeing to a direct meeting with Kim.
South Korea also had a summit, in which President Moon met with Kim. That summit went extremely well, centering on an ultimate deal to end the Korean War, which began in 1950. The US and China both gave support to this idea.
North Korea also sought negotiations on a denuclearization deal for the Korean Peninsula. This was the main US goal, and seemed very possible. As recently as Wednesday, the US was paring back demands on the rate of denuclearization, conceding it would be hard for North Korea to do everything at once.
But in recent weeks, problems started cropping up. A joint US-South Korea exercise involving warplanes led North Korea to complain that they are concerned the two nations aren’t taking the diplomatic track seriously. South Korea had to talk President Trump out of a second exercise involving nuclear-capable bombers not long after.
North Korea’s doubts were exacerbated by John Bolton’s talk of a “Libya model,” which saw Libya give up its WMD equipment for diplomatic gains it never really received. Within a few years, NATO was attacking Libya, and Gadhafi was killed in the streets.
Trump added to these concerns by suggesting Kim would share Gadhafi’s fate if he didn’t go along with US demands. Mike Pence made things even worse, saying it wasn’t a threat but “more of a fact.”
North Korea responded by calling Pence’s comments “ignorant and stupid.” This was the last statement made, the night before Trump’s pullout, suggesting that North Korea’s comments on Pence may have informed his decision to kill the talks.
While Trump kept the door open to future talks, he’s also majorly damaged America’s position as a country that can be dealt with. In recent weeks his administration has reneged on the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran, and has now backed out of a summit just a few weeks away for no obvious reason. This only adds to the view that the administration is capricious and that even when deals are reached, it’s an open question if the US will honor them.
To make matters worse, the talks were canceled mere hours after North Korea destroyed its nuclear testing site, which was supposed to be a confidence building measure for the summit. This again raises concerns the US are just trying to get North Korea to disarm before backing away from the talks.