By Josh Smith and Christine Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea responded on Friday with measured tones to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to call off a historic summit with leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for next month, saying Pyongyang hoped for a “Trump formula” to resolve the standoff over its nuclear weapons programme.
On Thursday, Trump wrote a letter to Kim to announce his withdrawal from what would have been the first-ever meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12.
“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it would be inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote.
Trump’s announcement came after repeated threats by North Korea to pull out of the summit over what it saw as confrontational remarks by U.S. officials.
Friday’s response by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan was more conciliatory, specifically praising Trump’s efforts.
“We have inwardly highly appreciated President Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other U.S. presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit,” Kim said in a statement carried by state media.
“We 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,” he said without elaborating.
North Korea has sharply criticised suggestions by Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence that it could share the fate of Libya if it did not swiftly surrender its nuclear arsenal. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and murdered by NATO-backed militants after halting his nascent nuclear programme.
Trump had initially sought to placate North Korea, saying that he was not pursuing the “Libya model” in getting the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also said: “This is the President Trump model. He’s going to run this the way he sees fit.”
Kim Kye Gwan said its recent criticisms against certain U.S. officials had just been a reaction to unbridled American rhetoric, and that the current antagonism showed “the urgent necessity” for the summit.
“His sudden and unilateral announcement to cancel the summit is something unexpected to us and we can not but feel great regret for it,” Kim Kye Gwan said, while noting that North Korea remained open to resolving issues with Washington “regardless of ways at any time”.
“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. The U.S. should ponder over it,” Kim said.
NUCLEAR SITE DECOMMISSIONED
Trump’s letter came just after North Korea announced it had completely dismantled its Punggye-ri nuclear test facility “to ensure the transparency of discontinuance of nuclear test”.
Footage of the event broadcast by South Korean media showed explosions throwing huge clouds of dust and debris as they destroyed tunnel entrances as well as multiple wooden structures around the site.
Other images showed North Korean officials displaying a map of the site, including several major tunnel complexes they said were unused and completely operational prior to being collapsed.
Analysts worried the cancelling of the talks could prompt a resumption in hostilities on the Korean peninsula, including renewed shorter-range missile tests or stepped-up cyber attacks by Pyongyang and increased sanctions or deployment of new military assets by Washington.
Trump, in scrapping the June 12 summit in Singapore, sounded a bellicose note, warning Kim of the United States’ greater nuclear might, reminiscent of the president’s tweet last year asserting that he had a “much bigger” nuclear button than Kim.
Speaking later, Trump said the U.S. military stood ready if Kim were to take any “foolish” action, and that the United States would continue its “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who worked hard to help set up the summit and urged Trump at a White House meeting on Tuesday not to let a rare opportunity slip away, said he was “perplexed” by the cancellation. He urged Trump and Kim to talk directly.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his South Korean counterpart, Kang Kyung-wha, held a phone call and agreed to continue working towards creating the right conditions for the United States and North Korea to talk, the South’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday.
Pyongyang had not responded in recent days to queries by the United States about the leaders’ summit, Pompeo told a Senate hearing.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Tokyo understands Trump’s decision to cancel the Singapore summit, Kyodo News reported.
“It’s meaningless to have talks that don’t achieve results,” Kono told reporters on a visit to Mexico City, the news agency said.
Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera also played down the significance of the cancelled meeting.
“The important thing is not the U.S.-North Korea meeting itself, but that the meeting becomes an opportunity to move forward in the issues of denuclearisation and abductions,” he told reporters in Toyko.
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON and William Mallard and Nobuhiro Kubo in TOKYO, Writing by Josh Smith and Soyoung Kim; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)