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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

North Korea meet not guaranteed, Trump says

Just three week's ahead of the planned meeting, Trump tempered his triumphalism saying the summit might not work out

US President Donald Trump met South Korea's President Moon Jae-In at the White House in Washington, on May 22, 2018. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
US President Donald Trump met South Korea's President Moon Jae-In at the White House in Washington, on May 22, 2018. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

President Donald Trump cast doubt on Tuesday as to whether his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will take place as scheduled on June 12.

“There’s a chance, a very substantial chance, it won’t work out,” Mr Trump said, during an Oval Office meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

“I don’t want to waste a lot of time and I’m sure he doesn’t want to waste a lot of time,” he said, of Mr Kim. “So there’s a very substantial chance it won’t work out and that’s OK. That doesn’t mean it won’t work out over a period of time.”

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Mr Moon’s visit to the White House - three weeks ahead of Mr Trump’s scheduled June 12 summit in Singapore with Mr Kim - comes amid renewed uncertainty about the North Korean leader’s intentions.

Mr Kim declared “an era of peace” at an April meeting with Mr Moon but Pyongyang abruptly cancelled a subsequent round of talks last week, pinning the decision on the US and South Korea moving ahead with long-planned military exercises.

The North Koreans also voiced concern about Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton’s suggestion that North Korea would follow the “Libya model” of arms control. After surrendering his country’s nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown and killed by US-backed rebels.

Mr Trump said on Tuesday that the US is prepared to guarantee Mr Kim’s safety as part of a deal aimed at denuclearising the Korean peninsula. If they reach an accord, the leader “will be very proud” of what he did for North Korea 25 years in the future, Mr Trump said.

“South Korea, China and Japan - and I’ve spoken to all three - they will be willing to help and I believe invest very, very large sums of money into making North Korea great,” said Mr Trump. “His country will be rich.”

While the president has previously acknowledged uncertainty around the planned summit, his remarks on Tuesday went further by suggesting that the meeting could fall apart.

“Whether or not it happens you’ll be knowing pretty soon,” Mr Trump said. “If it doesn’t happen, maybe it will happen later.”

The US president has otherwise been publicly insistent that the Kim meeting will take place, though he has privately expressed concerns about the risks of moving ahead with the summit, the New York Times reported on Sunday. Mr Moon has long been an advocate of engagement with North Korea and intended to use his session with Trump to keep the US president on board.

The biggest sticking point appears to be the definition of denuclearisation. US officials have repeatedly said they expect North Korea to accept “complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament,” while Pyongyang is seeking a phased process that could include a reduced US military presence in the region.

Denuclearisation “all in one would be a lot better” than in phases, Mr Trump said on Tuesday.

Mr Moon continued to express optimism during the Oval Office meeting.

“I am very much aware there are many sceptical views” in the US about whether the summit will be successful, Mr Moon said through an interpreter. “I have every confidence that President Trump will be able to achieve a historic feat.”