President Donald Trump’s spur-of-the-moment decision to agree to a face-to-face meeting with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un represented an unprecedented opportunity, but also a huge risk, most recently highlighted by a case of cold feet on both sides.
Anticipation about the June 12 meeting in Singapore is turning to pessimism, as the complexity of the initiative, the stark divides between Washington and Pyongyang, and inconsistencies in the White House’s approach to the meeting all become clear.
First, the Kim government threatened to pull out, blaming the “repugnance” of national security adviser John Bolton and his nuclear disarmament schemes.
Now Trump has switched from dreaming of Nobel prizes to warning that there is a “very substantial chance” that the meeting will not happen next month.
Trump is also speculating that China’s President Xi Jinping, who he called a “world class poker player” on Tuesday, may be behind Kim’s new hard line.
The atmosphere has soured from the euphoric optimism with which Trump welcomed home three US prisoners from North Korea two weeks ago to doubt and uncertainty.
There seems a good chance that the challenge coins minted by the White House Communications Agency to commemorate the summit may get left on the shelf.
“If it doesn’t happen, maybe it’ll happen later. Maybe it’ll happen at a different time, but we will see,” Trump said, alongside South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House on Tuesday.
So what is behind the sudden outburst of pessimism about what would be the most spectacular diplomatic summit in decades?