Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested during a Senate hearing on Thursday that President Trump’s decision to cancel his hotly anticipated summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un happened in part because North Korea didn’t respond to the US’s communications about preparations for the summit.
“Over the past many days, we have endeavored to do what Chairman Kim and I had agreed, which was to put teams, preparation teams together to begin to work to prepare for the summit — and we have received no response to our inquiries from them,” Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I don’t believe ... we’re in a position to believe that there could be a successful outcome.”
The secretary of state’s comments appear to broaden the Trump administration’s rationale for abruptly canceling the summit.
In his letter to Kim released on Thursday, Trump pointed to North Korea’s aggressive rhetoric in recent days as the main reason for calling off the meeting. “Based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote.
He was likely referring to a Wednesday statement by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui in which she warned that North Korea “can also make the US taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up to now,” according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
She also called Vice President Mike Pence a “political dummy” for threatening to attack North Korea and said US actions would determine whether there would be a meeting or whether this would all end in a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”
North Korea is on edge over National Security Adviser John Bolton’s insistence earlier in May that North Korea should follow the so-called “Libyan model,” in which Pyongyang would immediately hand over its entire nuclear program as part of a deal with the US.
That’s a no-go for Kim because of what happened to Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s former dictator. Qaddafi had a nuclear weapons program up until 2003, but he made a deal with George W. Bush’s administration to hand over the country’s nuclear materials and tell the US government where it had acquired the weapons.
Then in 2011, anti-Qaddafi rebels captured and killed him — with American help. Had Qaddafi kept his nuclear weapons, it’s entirely possible the US would not have intervened during the country’s civil war and Qaddafi would not have met such an end. Kim has likely internalized that lesson.
Pompeo’s comments expand the list of grievances the US has as it pulls away from the summit. It’s not just that the Trump administration thought North Korea’s rhetoric was too hot, but also that the North was allegedly not being responsive as US negotiators tried to move forward with preparing for the summit.
It’s possible that the Trump administration read North Korea’s withdrawal from communication as a sign that it was ill-prepared for the summit or considering abandoning it — and the Trump administration wanted to punish it for dragging its feet.
Alex Ward contributed reporting.