This week, Donald Trump canceled what would have been a historic summit between North Korea and United States. This is a look at the sequence of events that led up to his unilateral decision:
April 29 — U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and Fox News and discussed the “Libya model” as the U.S.’ blueprint for denuclearizing North Korea. In 2003-2004, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi gave up the country’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. In 2011, after disarming Libya, the United States and NATO forces bombed the defenseless country, and U.S.-backed “rebel” forces brutally murdered Gaddafi.
May 9 — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited North Korea to meet with Kim Jong-un. Following their meeting on May 10, North Korea released three American detainees, who returned to the U.S. with Pompeo.
May 10 — Trump announced the U.S.-North Korea Summit will take place on June 12, 2018 in Singapore.
May 14 — Max Thunder, an annual joint military exercise involving U.S. and South Korean fighter bombers, began less than a month ahead of the planned summit. Rather than scale down the military drills, the U.S. deployed 100 warplanes including F-22 stealth fighters and B-52 bombers designed to drop nuclear bombs. Although the U.S. justified it as a routine annual exercise, its scale was noticeably upgraded to include the F-22 fighters, which had not been deployed in previous Max Thunder exercises.
May 16 — North Korea cancelled high-level talks with South Korea and cited the escalated Max Thunder exercise as the reason.
Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s first vice-minister of Foreign Affairs, publicly denounced the Trump administration for its reference to the “Libya mode of nuclear abandonment.” He added that North Korea never asked for nor seeks the “economic compensation and benefit” the U.S. says it will offer in exchange for abandoning nuclear weapons.
Kim clarified, “We have already stated our intention of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearization is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States.”
May 17 — Trump contradicted Bolton’s remarks about the “Libya model”: “The Libya model isn’t the model we have at all when we’re thinking of North Korea.” He also conceded that Libya was “decimated” as a result.
May 21 — A trilateral military exercise involving U.S., South Korean, and Japanese bomber planes was adjusted after South Korea announced it will not participate. South Korea cited its concerns about the exercise’s impact on its relations with North Korea, which had dramatically improved following the April 27 Inter-Korean Summit.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham made the following comment on Fox News: “President Trump told me three days ago that he wants to end this in a win-win way… He thinks that’s possible, but if they pull out, they play him, that we’re going to end North Korea’s threat to the American homeland in his first term and I’ll let you surmise as to what that might look like.”
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spoke on Fox News and repeated Bolton’s threat that North Korea could meet Libya’s fate: “There was some talk about the Libyan model last week, and you know, as the President made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal.” Fox News noted his comment could be interpreted as a threat, and Pence responded, “Well, I think it’s more of a fact.”
May 22 — Trump and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in held a summit in Washington. After their meeting, Trump talked to the press about the U.S.-North Korea summit: “There’s a very substantial chance that it won’t work out… That doesn’t mean that it won’t work out over a period of time, but it may not work out for June 12… There are certain conditions we want to happen. I think we’ll get those conditions. And if we don’t, we won’t have the meeting.”
Trump also indicated openness to the idea of “phased dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.” While he prefers denuclearization of North Korea to happen all at once, he said, he does not want to “totally commit himself” to the all-at-once option.
Hours later, Pompeo announced that the White house’s goal is still to hold the summit on June 12. The South Korean government also expressed confidence that the summit will move forward as planned. A Blue House representative told the South Korean media that in his meeting with Trump, President Moon assured him that there’s no need to second-guess North Korea’s desire for the summit.
May 24 — North Korea dismantled the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site in front of international press.
North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui called out Mike Pence for his comment on the “Libya model.” She called him a “political dummy” and said the U.S. “offends against our goodwill and clings to unlawful and outrageous acts.”
On the same day, Trump sent a letter to North Korea to cancel the June 12 summit. “You talk about nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive,” he wrote. After unilaterally cancelling the summit, he then wrote in typical Trumpian illogicalness, “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write.”
May 25 — Trump said negotiations are back on with North Korea and the summit could still happen on June 12 or later: “We are having very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th, and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date.”
May 26 — Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in met at a surprise summit at the Demilitarized Zone — sparking widespread speculations that the Kim-Trump summit could happen after all.
ZoominKorea’s Hyun Lee and Canadian writer Steven Gowans were on Loud & Clear this week to discuss the latest development:
Lee pointed out that North Korea has taken active measures to demonstrate its commitment to dialogue with the United States. She discussed North Korea’s most recent gesture — destroying its nuclear test site in Punggye-ri before foreign journalists: “This was a clear demonstration on North Korea’s part of its sincerity towards denuclearization.”
The U.S., however, has done nothing to show that it is willing to reverse its hostile stance against North Korea and work towards peace, said Steve Gowans: “If we want to talk about being played, I think we can make the argument the United States has been playing the DPRK. If you’re going to have a talk, if you’re going to have negotiations, then you have some give and take. There has been never any intention from day one on the part of the United States to make any kind of concession.”
By ZoominKorea staff
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