US President Donald Trump has done little to quell mounting uncertainty surrounding a hallmark meeting with North Korea’s leader planned for next month, as he held key talks with his South Korean counterpart at the White House.
Trump is scheduled to meet Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12, but in recent weeks concerns have been raised over whether the summit will take place amid disagreements over denuclearisation in the Korean peninsula.
“If it doesn’t happen, maybe it will happen later,” Trump said of the meeting, addressing reporters alongside Moon Jae-in. “It may not work out for June 12 … but there is a good chance that we’ll have the meeting.”
But Trump, who earlier this month withdrew the US from a multinational nuclear deal with Iran, appeared to muddy the waters even further when he suggested there was a “substantial chance” the the Singapore summit would not take place unless “certain conditions” were met by North Korea.
Trump has called for a full denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and a complete dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
‘A lot of uncertainty’
North Korea, however, has threatened to pull out of the meeting if Washington continues to demand it gives up its nuclear arsenal unilaterally.
Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs, said in a statement last week that Pyongyang would “no longer be interested” in dialogue if the US “is trying to drive us into a corner”.
Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, DC, said North Korean officials were concerned about Washington’s reluctance to make any concessions ahead of the summit, particularly with regards to the US’ ongoing military presence on the Korean peninsula.
More than 24,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea, according to Department of Defense figures from 2016.
“There is a lot of uncertainty and doubts over whether or not this summit will go ahead,” Halkett said.
Pyongyang tracks back
For his part, Moon said the “fate and future” of the peninsula is hinged on the potentially historic planned meeting.
Referring to those who have raised doubts about the summit, Moon said that all parties must not assume “because it all failed in the past, it will fail again”.
Moon’s visit to Washington, DC, had been seen as an opportunity to help fine-tune Trump’s strategy for talks with Kim in June, but a dramatic about-turn by Pyongyang last week has added to the sense of doubt over whether the summit will actually take place.
After weeks of seemingly warming relations on the Korean peninsula, marked by a historic inter-Korea summit last month, Pyongyang suspended talks with its southern counterparts last week due to its hosting of a joint military drill with the US.
“There is a sense this is a salvage effort at the moment to try and make sure that the scheduled June 12 meeting between the US President and Kim does go ahead,” Halkett said.
Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Washington-based Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said Trump didn’t “want to look like he wants this summit more than Kim does”.
“It’s a smart move to say that he is willing to postpone. But to be credible, the president really has to be willing to walk away and I’m not sure he is,” Glaser told Reuters news agency.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies