WASHINGTON/SEOUL -- U.S. President Donald Trump's abrupt cancellation of a potentially historic summit on June 12 with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore sent shockwaves through the international community.
Trump, however, left the door for dialogue open, stating, "If and when Kim Jong Un chooses to engage in constructive dialogue and actions, I am waiting." North Korea also appealed for the need to hold the summit, showing that both parties are intent on leaving room for bilateral dialogue.
The following are the possible developments under the three scenarios that President Trump mentioned on May 24:
The first and the seemingly most plausible scenario is to call off the June 12 summit and push it back to a later date -- which the U.S. president seeks. Trump, who has maintained that successive U.S. administrations' policies toward North Korea over the past 25 years have failed, has been taking a new approach, aspiring to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue in a single shot through a summit. With midterm elections looming in November, Trump is most likely to stick to holding talks with Kim, as a summit would stand as a prominent example of the U.S. president's policy achievements.
Prior to Trump's surprise announcement, a sense of uneasiness had prevailed within the U.S. administration with officials unsure about how much Washington and Pyongyang would be able to compromise over the North's denuclearization, due to the latter's recent display of hostility and its blocking of negotiation channels. With an absence of conventional diplomatic means of building up mutual trust through lower-level talks and the proposed summit just around the corner, some in the U.S. administration questioned whether it was right for Trump to head into the meeting. For the time being, the U.S. president's announcement canceling the meeting has given Washington time to deal with the situation.
High-ranking officials in Trump's government point out that there were numerous breaches of promises by North Korea ahead of the planned summit, including its objections to U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, cancellation of dialogue with the South and rejection of the presence of outside experts during its nuclear test site demolition. U.S. officials say the Trump-Kim summit will come about if North Korea makes a turnaround and takes quite the opposite course.
The second scenario is that the summit will go ahead as planned. Trump suggested that it would be possible to hold the summit on June 12 if the North changes its attitude and clearly demonstrates its willingness to completely abandon its nuclear program. Trump also said he was still waiting for Kim and ready for dialogue. In response, North Korea also announced that it was ready to engage in dialogue.
However, the two parties are still far apart regarding concrete methods and deadlines for the North's denuclearization. Furthermore, many observers are concerned about there being insufficient time for both parties to prepare for the summit.
A senior U.S. official disclosed to reporters that when an advance team of U.S. officials including White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin visited Singapore last week to discuss the detailed arrangements of the summit, their North Korean counterparts did not show up for an appointment. In addition, the North did not respond to inquiries made by Washington over the past week. The official expressed regret over the situation, saying that a great deal of time -- needed for summit preparations -- had been lost and that June 12 felt like just 10 minutes away.
The third scenario is to for the U.S. to step up its policy of applying maximum pressure on North Korea, with eyes on a possible military option. In his letter addressed to Kim Jong Un, Trump said, "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 also told the media that U.S. military forces were ready if necessary.
According to the online edition of The Wall Street Journal, a National Security Council meeting convened on May 24 discussed measures including military action. The report also said Washington was looking to impose new sanctions on Pyongyang early next week. The move raised concerns that the U.S. administration had rolled back to its previous stance last year, when Trump said North Korea "will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." In reality, however, the latest U.S. move may rather be aimed at keeping Pyongyang in check in order to extract concessions.
During a press conference at the Pentagon on May 24, Joint Staff director Kenneth McKenzie dismissed the idea that the U.S. needed to raise the alert level against North Korea. Press Secretary Dana White also said the Department of Defense remained unchanged over its stance to support ongoing diplomatic efforts.
Following Trump's surprise announcement canceling the summit, North Korea released a statement under the name of its vice foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan, on May 25. The statement, studded with pleas for Washington to reconsider the cancellation, described Trump's sudden and unilateral announcement as "something unexpected" and that the North "cannot but feel great regret for it." The statement also said that the North has the intent to sit with the U.S. side to solve problems regardless of methods at any time.
The move was a major turnaround from a May 24 statement released by North Korean vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui, which stated that the North "will neither beg the U.S. for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us."
While the North has heretofore criticized the U.S. by naming such dignitaries as Vice President Mike Pence and national security advisor John Bolton, it has never directly criticized President Trump himself.
Indeed, the North's May 25 statement rather praised Trump, saying that he made a bold decision that no other U.S. presidents in the past had managed to make and that the North inwardly highly appreciates Trump. Furthermore, the statement said the North "even inwardly hoped that what is called 'Trump formula' would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue."
Regarding Pyongyang's "tremendous anger and open hostility" that Trump cited in his letter as grounds for canceling the summit, the North's May 25 statement said the country's move had been a reaction to Washington's excessive language and behavior in applying unilateral pressure for Pyongyang's nuclear abolition ahead of the summit.
Ever since the historic summit plan emerged, North Korea has shown its share of sincerity by releasing the three U.S. citizens detained in the country and inviting foreign journalists to cover the demolition of its nuclear test site. If Pyongyang and Washington return to tense relations like those seen last year without having a bilateral summit, it would serve North Korea no good as it would have played a negotiation card with no reward. Therefore, the North is apparently eager to see the summit meeting come about, even if it is delayed.
(Japanese original by Kota Takamoto, Washington Bureau, and Chiharu Shibue, Seoul Bureau)