The relationship between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is about as level as the streets of San Francisco. The two leaders have a history of lobbing insults at each other, and now, the world is waiting to see whether the summit between the president and Kim will happen at all. How North Korea views the U.S. seems skeptical at best, especially after Trump canceled his June 12 meeting with Kim.
Though the United States and North Korea achieved a temporary détente ahead of this summit, it's tough to squash that much history for long. Most recently, the boat got seriously rocked after North Korea threw insults at Mike Pence, calling his comments "ignorant and stupid." Just a day later, the situation snow-balled and Trump called the summit off entirely. In response, North Korea indicated it's still down to play ball, stressing that Kim will meet with Trump "at any time and in any way."
Even prior to the latest falling out, though, President Trump was reportedly worried the summit meeting in Singapore could turn into a political embarrassment, according to the New York Times. The Times, citing unnamed administration officials, reports that the president had been debating with his aides on whether he should risk taking such a loaded and historic meeting.
This comes after North Korea issued a statement in May, clarifying the military nation refuses to trade away its nuclear weapons capability in exchange for economic aid, administration officials said, per the Times. The statement was taken as a sort of slap in the face after weeks of conciliatory words.
"I don't think the President gets cold feet about anything," said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, according to CNN, when asked if the president was reconsidering going to the summit at the time. "The president is set. Right now, it's still on. If that changes, you'll find out about it."
But, the vice-president had a different opinion, signaling that "there's no question" Trump would back out if his terms weren't met. "It would be a great mistake for Kim Jong Un to think he could play Donald Trump," Pence told Fox News on Monday.
The North Korean government made it clear all along that it doesn't trust the United States, especially after national security advisor John Bolton said America would use the "Libyan model" of nuclear disarmament with North Korea. The country responded, saying it would not follow the model, which would require it — before receiving aid or sanctions relief — to relinquish all parts of its nuclear weapons program and allow inspectors in to examine whether it had complied. At that point, things began to turn sour. And less than a week later, Trump has indeed pulled out of the summit.
Perhaps an understanding of how North Koreans are taught to view the Western world may help in demystifying relations between the two countries. North Korean propaganda frames the United States as aggressive imperialists who want to occupy the Korean peninsula, according to a Vox examination of an academic North Korean book. The propaganda argues that the United States incited the Korean War in the 1950s to further global domination. Americans dropped 635,000 explosives on North Korea during the Korean War, and that fear of devastating airstrikes is a narrative the North Koreans use to control the perception of Americans and "justify the permanent emergency state," according to CNN. Then there's the long history of name-calling: Aside from calling Trump a "dotard" and "lunatic," the North Korean camp has also called President Barack Obama a "dirty fellow," John F. Kerry a "hideous lantern jaw," and the entire President George W. Bush administration "a bunch of tricksters and political imbeciles," according to The Independent.
But this week, even though Trump canceled the summit, things could still turn around. If anything, it's a good sign that North Korea is still willing to meet up.