Both the United States and North Korea are denying having invited the other to meet for a potentially historic summit, suggesting an intermediary may have played both sides.
“It is the U.S. who has asked for dialogue, but now it is misleading the public opinion as if we have invited them to sit with us,” North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui said Thursday in a statement critical of the Trump administration carried by North Korean state media.
A few hours later, President Donald Trump sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cancelling the summit originally scheduled to be held in Singapore on June 12. In that letter, one particular line addressed the question of which side sought out the other.
“We were informed that the meeting was requested by North Korea,” the president wrote.
The initial message that Kim had invited Trump to meet him at a landmark leadership summit was delivered to the president by a senior South Korean official who met with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang just days earlier. South Korean National Security Adviser Chung Eui-Yong told Trump on March 8 that Kim expressed “his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.”
After a short discussion, the president immediately agreed to meet with Kim.
Choe’s statement Thursday suggests that North Korea did not request a meeting with the U.S., perhaps indicating that Pyongyang was operating under the incorrect impression that the Trump administration had requested a meeting with the North Korean leader, an assumption perhaps brought about by a questionable South Korean message to the North.
Seoul appears to have “put a little English on Kim’s statements,” Jeffrey Lewis, a leading North Korea expert and the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program for the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told The Daily Caller News Foundation Thursday, referring to Chung’s statement to the president.
Lewis suggested that the South Korean government took steps to “package” Kim’s statements for Trump, possibly misconstruing certain bits of information in the process.
He noted that North Korea remained silent throughout much of the preparation, allowing South Korea to spin the narrative. “It was always the South Koreans saying ‘Kim said this’ and ‘Kim said that,” Lewis explained, adding that Trump was particularly “vulnerable to hearing one thing and believing it.”
Lewis theorized that South Korea was concerned about the threat of nuclear war hanging over the peninsula and acted on that fear to force a diplomatic solution, assuming that Trump and Kim could reach some sort of agreement once the two got in a room together.
There is, of course, the possibility that North Korea is lying about inviting Trump to the summit.
“Not sure we have evidence ROK is playing both sides,” Ankit Panda, a foreign affairs expert and senior editor at The Diplomat, told TheDCNF, “I suspect DPRK extended the invite.”
South Korea appears to have been blindsided by the news that Trump had decided to cancel his summit with Kim. “We are attempting to make sense of what, precisely, President Trump means,” a South Korean presidential spokesman said.
In response to the cancellation, the liberal South Korean government led by South Korean President Moon Jae-in held an emergency national security meeting.
Moon expressed “deep regret” over the cancellation of the summit.
If the summit was based on a lie or a misrepresentation of the facts, it would likely suggest that the meeting was in jeopardy from the start. The U.S. and North Korea have been pursuing different ends from the beginning, with Washington calling for “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” while Pyongyang merely expressed a commitment to denuclearization while demanding recognition as a nuclear state.
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