Korea threat a 'splash of cold water'

North Korean leaderKim Jong-un

Washington: The White House on Wednesday brushed aside threats by North Korea to cancel a summit meeting between President Trump and its leader, Kim Jong-un, but the harsh words underscored the chasm that will separate the two leaders next month in Singapore over how to deal with North Korea's nuclear arsenal.

Trump struck a non-committal tone about the status of the meetin,g but said he still planned to demand that the North surrender its entire nuclear programme. A top North Korean official said Kim would not tolerate attempts to "drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment".

While administration officials and outside experts said they believed the meeting would go off as planned, the clashing messages brought a diplomatic high-wire act temporarily back to earth.

The reversal came after months in which Kim presented himself as a statesman, halting missile tests and freeing imprisoned Americans. Now, the North has reverted to its earlier hardline stance on keeping its nuclear weapons and to a playbook that includes sudden shifts in tactics when negotiating with other nations.

Kim has made two trips to China to seek its support since inviting Trump to meet. Some administration officials said they believed that China was exploiting its leverage over North Korea to pressure Trump into a deal on trade.

American officials also said the North appeared to be exploiting the differences between the hawkish views of the national security adviser, John R. Bolton, and the more moderate tone of secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

Bolton has said the precedent for the North Korea negotiations should be Libya, which agreed in 2003 to box up its entire nuclear programme and ship it out of the country without conditions. North Korea, he said, should expect to receive no benefits, including the lifting of sanctions, until it has done the same.

Victor D. Cha, who negotiated with North Korea during the George W. Bush administration, said its tough words were "a splash of cold water on all of those who thought this was going to be easier and different this time". He predicted there would be several more bumps before June 12. "Welcome to the world of negotiating with the obstreperous North Koreans," Cha said.



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