President Donald Trump on Wednesday offered a non-committal response to North Korean threats to cancel his planned summit with Kim Jong Un, saying he hadn’t received any information that would put the talks in jeopardy.
“We haven’t been notified at all, we’ll have to see,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, where he was meeting his Uzbek counterpart. “We haven’t seen anything, we haven’t heard anything. We will see what happens.”
But pressed whether he would still insist upon North Korea’s denuclearization as a condition for the talks, Trump nodded yes.
Trump’s aides were working Wednesday to determine whether overnight warnings from North Korea might scuttle the highly anticipated summit, even as some in the administration conceded the threats were an expected bump in any dealing with the unpredictable hermit regime.
The tough statements from Pyongyang ended the diplomatic warming that had been leading up to the June 12 encounter between the two men, slated to occur in Singapore. The US administration had no advance warning that a top North Korean official would threaten to call off the talks if joint military exercises with South Korea continue or if the US maintained its insistence that North Korea immediately dismantle its nuclear program.
“The President is all over this today,” said White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley.
As the statements, written in the North’s idiosyncratic rhetoric, emerged from the North Korea news service on Tuesday evening, American officials scrambled to get a handle on what precisely had been said, and whether it posed a real risk to the President’s upcoming meeting.
Trump was preparing to depart the White House for the Walter Reed medical center, where is wife Melania is convalescing after a kidney procedure, when the initial statement warning against joint military exercises emerged on Tuesday afternoon. Aides waited until his return to provide a full briefing on the matter.
He was updated again on Wednesday morning after additional statements emerged from North Korea’s disarmament negotiator rejecting the US call for immediate nuclear disarmament, officials said.
“If the United States is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the D.P.R.K.-U.S. summit,” the statement from Kim Kye-kwan read.
On Wednesday, administration officials were debating whether North Korea was simply posturing ahead of the summit or whether there is something more to the threats. Officials said they wanted to make a determination before Trump himself responds.
The administration is hoping to use the diplomatic and intelligence channels between the US and North Korea that have been opened to gain greater clarity on what exactly happened, and whether the summit can still move forward, the officials said.
One person involved in planning for the talks expressed cautious optimism that the rhetoric coming from the North won’t scuttle the meeting, suggesting North Korea is known for its unpredictable behavior. But the official acknowledged that Trump’s response will be closely watched for signs he’s softening or conceding anything to Kim.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump was prepared to walk away from talks.
“This is something that we fully expected. The President is very used to and ready for tough negotiations, and if they want to meet, we’ll be ready, and if they don’t, that’s OK, too,” she said.
Asked whether the goalposts had been moved for the talks, she said only that the parameters were still being discussed.
“These are ongoing conversations,” she said. “Beyond that I don’t have a lot to say, other than what we’ve already laid out what our priorities are when it comes to these conversations and that we’re going to be prepared if it takes place.”