Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea reached a fever pitch following President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel the planned June 12 summit in Singapore. The future trajectory of the Korean Peninsula has become difficult to predict as the North and the US vie to outmaneuver each other.
On May 24, President Trump sent a public letter to Chairman Kim stating that the Singapore summit has been cancelled. This was sent merely three hours after North Korea destroyed the Punggye-ri nuclear test facility that was the site for six nuclear tests.
“Sadly, 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,” the letter says. The decision to cancel may have been based on public criticism of the US by senior North Korean bureaucrats Kim Kye-gwan and Choe Son Hui.
The US decision to cancel the meeting may also have been due to the fact that North Korean representatives did not show up to an agreed-upon location in Singapore for working group level preparation.
Sogang University Professor Kim Yong Soo told Daily NK on May 25, “The pretext for the cancellation of the summit was the statements made by Kim Kye Kwan and Choe Son Hui, but the argument that it was cancelled because the North did not show up for working level meetings in Singapore is also convincing. The situation became this way because the American side did not see sincerity expressed by the North at the working level, and then judged that it was not possible to convene the meeting at the summit level.”
North Korean Foreign Vice Minister Choe Son Hui in Moscow in October of 2017.
Image: Yonhap. News Agency
In this way, the US sent a message to North Korea that to hold a summit meeting, it would need to show sincerity. On the receiving end, North Korea responded with another public statement attributed to Kim Kye Kwan.
The statement attributed to Kim Kye-gwan attracted further attention as it was laden with politeness and civility that is very rarely expressed towards the US in North Korea’s statements. In particular, the statement said, “We would like to make known to the U.S. side once again that we have the intent to sit with the US side to solve problems at any time in any way.”
President Trump left the door open to continued dialogue in his communication as well. At the signing ceremony of a financial deregulation bill, he said, “Hopefully, everything’s going to work out well with North Korea.” He added, “A lot of things can happen. Including the fact that, perhaps, it is possible that the existing summit could take place or a summit at some later date.”
In the letter addressed to Kim, Trump wrote, “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write.”
In regard to this, Professor Kim Yong Soo said, “The game is not yet over. The way to describe this moment is to say that both sides are drawing their swords in preparation for a victory. They will both demand big things from one another, so they are trying to revise their moves with an eye towards not pushing their opponent too far.”
Korean National Diplomatic Academy Professor Kim Hyun Wook said, “North Korea’s response to President Trump’s letter was surprisingly amicable. I think that’s opened up the possibility to relaunch working-level talks between the US and North Korea. If North Korea does not have a change of attitude, there could be a dramatic break so North Korea is trying at this point to fit into America’s frame.”