Tuesday, May 22, was a big day for the Koreas in Washington. Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s famous peace-making president, was in town, meeting one-on-one with President Trump on a rescue mission to save his June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un and keep Moon’s dream alive for a historic peace settlement in Korea. Later, Moon was the guest of honor at a ceremony marking 136 years of US-Korean friendship.
But his mission failed, and now that relationship is being tested like never before.
On Thursday morning, May 24, The Washington Post reported breaking news from the White House: “Trump cancels summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.”
In a letter to Kim filled with mixed messages of concern and confrontation, Trump said the summit with North Korea, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, was off.
“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed” in recent statements from Pyongyang, “I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote. What set him off was a blistering polemic published Wednesday night by Choe Son-hui, a North Korean vice foreign minister well-known to US officials and negotiators.
Choe, who is reportedly close to Kim Jong-un, criticized Vice President Mike Pence for his recent warning on Fox News that North Korea could end up like Libya—a state broken by a US-led regime-change operation—if it fails to cut a deal with Trump ending its nuclear-weapons program.
“As a person involved in the U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice-president,” Choe wrote. “Whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States.” It was the third statement from North Korea in a week threatening to cancel the talks.
It’s not hard to understand why Choe would take umbrage at Pence. The US vice president is widely detested in Korea for his rude and grouchy behavior toward the North Korean delegation during the Winter Olympics earlier this year in PyeongChang, where Moon’s diplomacy with Kim got off the ground. Moreover, even as the summit was being planned, Pence was citing John Bolton, Trump’s controversial national-security adviser, on Libya and the necessity of a military option against the North if negotiations fail to end its nuclear program.