When President Trump announced a summit with North Korea to curtail their nuclear capabilities, it was an achievement viewed as Nobel Peace Prize worthy by his supporters. Barely one month later, the White House called off the meeting announced on Twitter and in a threatening letter addressed to the North Korean President, Kim Jong Un. North Korea responded by making clear they were still willing to meet and U.S. preparation for the summit continued signaling that the meeting might not be cancelled after all. This would be the first meeting ever of U.S. and North Korean presidents.
In his letter cancelling the summit, Trump flexed U.S. military muscle in a threatening message, “… please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place.” He continued, “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.”
In the same letter, Trump expressed thanks and seemingly open to moving forward with the meeting. “Some day, I look very much forward to meeting you. In the meantime, I want to thank you for the release of the hostages who are now home with their families. That was a beautiful gesture and was very much appreciated.”
The summit was announced to be held mere hours after North Korea released three prisoners accused of spying on behalf of the United States. It was largely hailed as a U.S. diplomatic victory. The prisoners’ 3 a.m. arrival on U.S. soil did not deter Trump from creating a media spectacle of their release. Trump said the prisoner release was helping lead the bilateral relationship to new “footing”.
The surprise meeting in April between the leaders of North and South Korea also signaled the formation of a new relationship. For the first time since the end of the Korean War in the early 50’s, Kim Jong Un became the first North Korean leader to cross the southern border. During that meeting, both Jong Un of the north and Moon Jae In of the south agreed in principal, to eliminate nuclear weapons from their countries. They also agreed to reduce arms in certain regions, allow families torn apart by the war to reunite, and to jointly participate in athletic contests. At one point in his formal statement, Kim Jong Un called the Koreas “one country”. Certainly, Olympic participation as a single entity in opening and closing ceremonies and competition as a single country in sports including women’s ice hockey helped to heal relations and sent a strong signal of future cooperation.
The summit was to be held June 12th in Singapore, because it was accepted by both participating countries as a neutral country. Not surprisingly, the meeting was announced by the president on Twitter, “The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” Singapore’s department of foreign affairs also tweeted a message of support, calling the summit a, “… significant step on the path to peace.”
Besides releasing political prisoners in a sign of détente, North Korea also announced the freezing of nuclear weapons testing. The Western world viewed the announcement with skepticism, much like how they continue to view the potential U.S.-North Korean summit. Some experts believe the reason for suspending testing is because North Korea has already developed desired nuclear capabilities. In addition, Kim Jong Un’s willingness to travel to Singapore for the summit is a sign of strength at home and a reflection of his ability to withstand any attempts at a coup détat. Jong Un’s March trip to Beijing is also perceived as a sign of strength at home. Perhaps the North Korean’s crowning achievement and the move to solidify his power on the Korean peninsula is the meeting with the U.S. president. Just as Trump received rave reviews for pursuing peace among the Koreas, Jong Un is receiving accolades from even his doubters as a strong leader able to arrange a prized meeting with the U.S. president.
There are signs that despite Trump’s cancellation, the summit may still happen. An official press release issued by the Korean Foreign Ministry stated, “We would like to make known to the U.S. side once again that we have the intent to sit with the U.S. side to solve problems regardless of ways at any time.” The statement continued, “We remain unchanged in our goal and will do everything we could for peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and humankind, and we, broadminded and open all the time, have the willingness to offer the U.S. side time and opportunity.”
South Korea has served as liaison between the U.S. and North Korea and continued in that crucial role after Trump announced the meeting was cancelled. Once again, Moon met with Jong Un to try to keep the summit on track. The two leaders met for only the second time in a decade. Released photos show the two leaders embracing and smiling. Moon said, “Chairman Kim and I have agreed that our quest for the Korean peninsula’s denuclearization and a perpetual peace regime should not be halted.”
The same day, the White House signaled that a U.S. advance team would travel to Singapore, as previously planned in order to prepare for the summit between the U.S. and North Korea. Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders said the U.S. advance team would make preparations, “… should the summit take place.”
Just one day later Trump said plans were continuing for the summit, “It’s moving along very nicely. So we’re looking at June 12th in Singapore. That hasn’t changed. So, we’ll see what happens.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping have both supported the summit. Asia experts suspect Jinping’s encouragement allows China to assert greater control over the Korean peninsula while Japan is most interested in denuclearization.