Politics

Trump Continues Pivot Toward Reviving Kim Summit

Potential 2020 primary foe floats idea of deal freezing North’s nuke programs

President Donald Trump walks with the three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim at Joint Base Andrews on May 9. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)

Perhaps President Donald Trump soon will be sitting across from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un soon after all.

In perhaps the most illuminating example of how his presidency often takes reality show-like plot twists, the U.S. commander in chief on Tuesday had a thinly veiled message for his critics when he alluded on Twitter that a letter he sent Kim just five days ago canceling their planned June 12 summit worked.

“Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more. Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York,” Trump wrote of the 72-year-old general and politician.

He called the North’s actions since he sent a letter that both threatened a debilitating U.S. nuclear attack and urged Kim to “call me or write” a collective “Solid response to my letter.”

Appearing eager to revive the nuclear disarmament talks, Trump returned Tuesday to his recent conciliatory tone toward the young North Korean leader, ending his tweet with these words: “thank you!”

It took the president and his senior aides mere hours after they released the cancellation letter Thursday morning to begin signaling the talks might happen — and might still go off on June 12.

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A senior White House official who briefed reporters on Thursday afternoon said he doubted the summit could still happen in mid-June, citing security and logistical planning needs. In a much-maligned tweet Saturday, the president falsely claimed that official “doesn’t exist,” seeming eager to keep alive the chances for a June 12 meeting. (A Roll Call reporter was on the Thursday call during which the official briefed reporters.)

On Friday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told a group of reporters that a White House “advance team” slated to head to Singapore in preparation for the summit with Kim might still make the trip. A day later, she released a statement saying the team would depart as planned.

Late Friday night, the president seemed to confirm that June 12 was back on the table, tweeting that the Kim talks, if both sides agree to come back to the negotiating table “will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th., and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date.”

Then on Sunday, the president tweeted this about a mid-June summit: “Trump on Sunday tweeted this: ‘It will happen!’”

There was another sign the summit appears to be back on within a White House statement issued Monday summarizing a telephone conversation between Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: “The two leaders discussed recent developments in North Korea and confirmed they would meet again to continue close coordination in advance of the expected meeting between the United States and North Korea.”

One GOP senator who, at times, has had Trump’s ear on Sunday questioned whether Kim would really agree to totally give up his nuclear arsenal.

“This is a very erratic regime that’s very — that’s to say, you know, paranoid about the rest of the world, distrustful of the rest of the world. They’ve never dealt with outsiders, they don’t have an established diplomatic core. They’ve never done that on their end,” Senate Foreign Relations member Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on ABC’s “This Week.” 

“We have a leader in Kim Jong-un who ... has almost an emotional attachment and a personal psychological attachment to these nuclear weapons. They make him feel prestigious, they make him feel powerful,” he added. “And they have, quite frankly, been what his regime has been known for since he took over seven years ago.”

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And retiring Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a potential 2020 GOP primary for Trump, on Sunday floated the notion of a deal under which Kim would agree to freeze his atomic programs.

“A lot of us have been skeptical that North Korea will ever agree to total denuclearization. I think they believe they’re in the position they’re in kind of as a nuclear peer with us because of their nuclear weapons,” said Flake, who would not rule out a presidential bid and said he hopes someone in his party will challenge Trump.

“But let me say, a freeze would be better than we’ve had before,” said Flake, also a Foreign Relations member. “So, there’s nothing wrong with saying, hey, they may not denuclearize, but we could have a better situation than we currently have.”

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