Updated 3:27 p.m. | President Donald Trump on Thursday said he has not been cramming for his nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and signaled he might cancel it again. He also expressed a willingness to normalize relations with the North.
“We would like to see normalization, yes,” Trump said during a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“Normalizing relations is something that I would expect to do,” the U.S. commander in chief said. “There are a lot of good factors lined up for North Korea. … It has tremendous potential because the people are great, and we would certainly like to see normalization.”
With his summit with the North Korean leader slated for next Tuesday in Singapore, Trump reiterated that he is willing to “walk out” if he determines Kim is not serious about reaching an acceptable deal.
Trump previously canceled the summit in a letter to the North Korean leader. But he reversed course eight days later, announcing the meeting was back on, though with lowered expectations.
His tone Thursday toward Kim continued to be mostly warm, though he did note he has “many more” options for slapping new sanctions on North Korea if the two countries cannot reach a pact.
The U.S. president again said he doubts an accord will be inked next week, saying he thinks it will “take longer than that” — but he declined to say how long or if he has a date at which time a deal must be in place.
Last Friday, Trump told reporters — as a show of goodwill — that he and his administration would no longer use the term “maximum pressure” to describe his policy of strict sanctions on the North. On Wednesday, he suggested the world would know how well the summit went if he begins using those words again.
And, after threatening to use U.S. nuclear weapons and other military capabilities against the North, Trump said he would invite Kim to the White House should they eventually finalize a nuclear pact. “Let’s start with the White House, what do you think?” he playfully said to a reporter who asked if such a Kim visit would occur at the executive mansion or his South Florida resort.
Abe, who at first had serious concerns about direct U.S.-North Korea talks, used his latest turn alongside the U.S. president to praise his efforts with North Korea. He lauded what he called Trump’s “outstanding leadership” on the matter, and said he was “delighted” by the American president’s promise to press Kim on 12 Japanese citizens who were abducted by the North.
And the Japanese prime minister set high expectations for the Singapore summit, saying Trump has a chance to forge “a new history.”
Notably, both leaders sent a message not only to Kim but to the North Korean people, with Abe noting the country is chock-full of untapped natural resources that — with the help of the U.S., Japan and other countries — could bring it a prosperous future.
Trump also made clear he believes his tough stance toward Pyongyang and his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal has changed Tehran’s behavior. He contended the Iranian government was “different,” taking less aggressive actions across the Middle East.
‘It’s about attitude’
Before the two leaders addressed reporters in the Rose Garden, Trump raised eyebrows by acknowledging reports he has not been holding intense study sessions to get ready to negotiate with Kim.
“I think I’m very well prepared. I don’t think I have to prepare that much,” he said alongside Abe in the Oval Office. “It’s about attitude.”
“It’s about willingness to get things done,” he added. “But I think I’ve been prepared for this summit for a long time.”
Trump did not elaborate on why he feels so confident, but senior White House aides, as chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow has in recent days, described their boss as a skilled negotiator.
Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern that Trump does not seem to be preparing. The president appeared to spend most of Thursday morning firing off tweets attacking political foes and the Justice Department.
During a May 24 Senate Foreign Relations hearing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, ranking member Robert Menendez was skeptical of how the Trump administration handled the run-up to canceling the summit and its surprise at harsh North Korean rhetoric.
“The art of diplomacy is a lot harder than the ‘Art of the Deal,’” the New Jersey Democrat said, referencing the president’s best-selling 1987 book. “And the reality is that it’s pretty amazing that the administration might be shocked that North Korea is acting the way North Korea might very well normally act.”
The president reversed course a week later, announcing the summit was back on.
Now Trump and Abe are huddling about the North Korea summit and other matters ahead of the G-7 meeting in Canada, where both will spend the weekend.
From there, Trump will head to Singapore to sit down face-to-face with Kim. Should the summit happen, it will mark the first time leaders of the two countries have met.
Trump predicted it will be “much more than a photo-op,” but cautioned that solving the North Korea nuclear arms issue would be “more than a one-meeting deal.”
“At a minimum, we’ll start with a good relationship,” he said.
But he also made clear he expects Kim to eventually agree to shed his atomic arsenal, something Democrats and experts say does not seem to be in the North Korean leader’s interests.
“They have to de-nuke. If they don’t denuclearize, that will be unacceptable,” he said, before shifting back to his more recent conciliatory tone toward a leader he has at times threatened with the American military and nuclear fleet: “I think it’s going to be a very fruitful meeting.”
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