Doubts grow over Trump-Kim summit

Doubts grow over Trump-Kim summit
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE’s plans for a historic nuclear summit with North Korea were thrown into further doubt on Tuesday after a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

During the huddle, Trump expressed confidence that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “serious” about denuclearization but also acknowledged the likelihood that the June 12 summit in Singapore falls through.

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“There’s a very substantial chance that it won’t work out, and that’s OK,” Trump said in the Oval Office, with Moon at his side. “That doesn’t mean it won’t work out over a period of time, but it may not work out for June 12.”

Trump’s uncertainty has been driven by a harder line coming out of North Korea, which has frustrated administration officials and thrown a wrench into planning just weeks before the summit.

The visit from Moon, who has already held his own groundbreaking summit with Kim, provided an opportunity for the South Korean leader to give Trump his assessment on North Korea’s rhetorical shift and determine if the meeting is still feasible.

Top administration officials refused to place odds on whether the Trump–Kim summit will happen, but said they are moving ahead with planning.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Pompeo: 'We've not been successful' in changing US-Russia relations Positive Moon-Kim summit creates a diplomatic opening in North Korea MORE made a surprise appearance in his department’s press briefing room, his first since becoming chief diplomat, to assure the administration "will do what it takes” to make the summit happen.

“We’re working toward June 12,” he said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed those comments, saying “we’re going to continue in preparations, and we’ll see what happens.”

If the summit falls through, it would be a stinging defeat for Trump, who has made nuclear diplomacy his top foreign policy objective. No sitting U.S. president has met with the leader of North Korea, and Trump has openly mused about how brokering a nuclear deal could win him a Nobel Peace Prize.

Analysts were divided on whether Trump’s latest comments signal the summit’s demise or are a negotiating tactic to regain leverage over Pyongyang.

Jessica Lee, interim executive director at the Council of Korean Americans, said it is difficult to tell whether Trump is “posturing” or sending “a genuine sign that [the] U.S. is losing faith in the process.”

“The fact that the summit is in jeopardy this close to the date should be a wake-up call to all who thought war with North Korea was a distant possibility,” she wrote in an email.

The first indication the summit could be in jeopardy came last week, when North Korea scrapped high-level talks with the South and threatened to walk away from negotiations with Trump if the U.S. continued to demand “unilateral” nuclear disarmament.

A top North Korean officials also blasted national security adviser John Bolton, who said a nuclear deal could follow a “Libya model.”

Libya struck an agreement with the U.S. in 2003 to surrender its nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief. But eight years later, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, Libya’s longtime ruler, was ousted from power in a popular uprising and killed by NATO-backed rebels.

Trump distanced himself from those comments and stressed that Kim’s safety would be ensured under any deal that eliminates his nuclear weapons, an apparent attempt to reassure the North Koreans and bring them back to the table.

“We will guarantee his safety,” Trump said, adding that if the U.S. and North Korea strike a deal, Kim would “be very proud” of what he did for his country.

There were other signs the talks could remain on track.

Foreign journalists arrived in North Korea on Tuesday to watch the dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site later in the week as North Korea promised, though analysts have cast doubt on the sincerity of the move since international nuclear inspectors have not been invited to observe.

With Pyongyang’s threat to cancel the Trump summit, Moon arrived in Washington with a goal of resuscitating the diplomatic process. Moon was elected to office pledging a rapprochement with the North and was instrumental in brokering the diplomatic opening with the U.S.

But North Korea’s shift back to aggressive rhetoric led some to question whether Moon previously overstated Pyongyang’s willingness to denuclearize.

In a sign the allies may not be on the same page, Moon’s national security adviser told reporters on the way to Washington that there was a “99.9 percent chance” the Trump–Kim summit will happen “as scheduled.”

In the meeting with Trump, Moon stressed that the “fate and the future” of the Korean Peninsula depend on a successful summit.

“I'll spare no efforts to the end to support the success of the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit,” Moon said in the Oval Office. “I have every confidence that President Trump will be able to achieve a historic feat of making the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit successful and end the Korean War that has been lasting for the past 65 years.”

Regional experts said domestic politics may ultimately push Trump and Kim past their differences and back to the negotiating table. Both Trump and Moon have placed a “significant amount of their political capital” on a Korea deal, Lee said.

“I think there is enough domestic support for talks to take place, and they should remain the course,” she said. “Failure to do so will usher a fresh wave of volatility and brinkmanship and put American lives, lives of our allies, and the entire global economy at risk.”