President Donald Trump described as “warm and productive” a conciliatory statement from North Korea saying it remained willing to meet with the U.S. after Trump abruptly canceled a June 12 summit with the country’s leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said Friday that his country still wanted to pursue peace and said it would give Washington more time to reconsider talks. He added that North Korea “inwardly highly appreciated” Trump for agreeing to the summit, and hoped the “Trump formula” would help lead to a deal between the adversaries.
“The first meeting would not solve all, but solving even one at a time in a phased way would make the relations get better rather than making them get worse,” Kim said in a statement carried Friday by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. “We would like to make known to the U.S. side once again that we have the intent to sit with the U.S. side to solve problem regardless of ways at any time.”
Trump speaks about the canceled summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on May 24.Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images
In response, Trump wrote in a Twitter posting Friday, “Very good news to receive the warm and productive statement from North Korea. We will soon see where it will lead, hopefully to long and enduring prosperity and peace. Only time (and talent) will tell!”
The statement from Pyongyang appeared designed to get the summit back on track after Trump abruptly canceled the Singapore meeting, citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” in recent statements from North Korea. Asian stocks pared opening losses after the olive branch from North Korea as investors weighed the likelihood of a return to missile tests and military threats that raised tensions last year.
“We will likely see, at best, tensions rise,” said Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official who worked on North Korean issues. “At worst, we will see renewed discussion in Washington of military options.”
Trump said he had spoken with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the leaders of South Korea and Japan. He called the collapse of his planned summit with Kim “a tremendous setback for North Korea and indeed a setback for the world,” adding that the U.S. military is ready if necessary in the event of a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
Investors accustomed to years of ups and downs between North Korea and the U.S. shrugged off the news. Stocks were mixed and Treasuries edged higher with the dollar while the won pared initial losses.
The U.S. president also held out hope that he and Kim could meet in the future: “Nobody should be anxious. We have to get it right,” he said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there were “a lot of dial tones” as the U.S. sought to work out logistics with North Korea to hold the summit.
South Korean President Moon Jae-In said that peace on the peninsula shouldn’t be abandoned and suggested that Trump and Kim hurt chances for a successful summit by speaking to each other through statements, tweets and spokespeople.
“It’s hard to resolve the diplomatic issue, which is both difficult and sensitive, with the current way of communication,” Moon said in a statement. “I wish the leaders would have a more direct and closer conversation to deal with it.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang called on the two sides to “cherish the recent positive progress, stay patient, demonstrate goodwill” and get back to the negotiating table. China wasn’t surprised by the collapse of the summit given the recent signals from Trump, said a government official who asked not to be identified commenting on the matter.
“I can imagine Seoul will hustle to try and bring the two leaders together again because Moon really needs a U.S.-North Korea summit and diplomatic process to happen on the nuclear front in order for him to drive and achieve his peace agenda,” said Duyeon Kim, a visiting senior research fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul. “A summit will eventually happen if Pyongyang still wants a summit, shows it still wants a summit, practices restraint, and plays nice before the two leaders meet.”
North Korea hardened its rhetoric toward the U.S. earlier Thursday, lashing out after remarks by Vice President Mike Pence and the White House national security adviser, John Bolton, that had linked the country with Libya. Choe Son Hui, vice-minister of foreign affairs, called Pence “stupid” and a “political dummy,” according to an English-language statement from KCNA.
Trump then issued his own threat in a letter to Kim. “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used,” Trump wrote.
The timing of Trump’s letter may be an additional embarrassment to North Korea, as the country made a show of demolishing its main nuclear-weapons test site earlier on Thursday before a select group of foreign journalists. The exercise was portrayed as the destruction of tunnels used for all six of North Korea’s nuclear tests, but there was no independent verification that the site was disabled.
The site’s closure doesn’t preclude North Korea from using other potential sites for testing or conducting atmospheric nuclear tests, said Van Jackson, a strategy fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.
“North Korea has reached a point with both its nuke and missile programs that testing isn’t essential,” said Jackson, a former U.S. Department of Defense adviser. “Missile reliability would benefit from more testing, but they have a ‘good enough’ strike capability at this point.”
— With assistance by Andy Sharp, Keith Zhai, Kanga Kong, Nick Wadhams, Margaret Talev, Sam Kim, Toluse Olorunnipa, Colin Keatinge, Heesu Lee, Seyoon Kim, and Kevin Hamlin