It only took a few hours. On Thursday morning, President Trump announced that he's pulling out of a planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Hours later, the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that North Korea will still meet with Trump "at any time and in any way" if and when he wished to do so. Trump had planned to sit down with Kim in Singapore in June, but then abruptly canceled the meeting Thursday morning.
Although it's unclear precisely what led to the cancellation of the summit, which would have been the first-ever face-to-face meeting between an American and North Korean head of government, it appears to be related to an interview that Vice President Mike Pence gave to Fox News on Monday. Pence said that the United States could end up following "the Libyan model" in North Korea if Kim doesn't strike a deal; though he didn't elaborate, the United States spearheaded an international bombing campaign in Libya in 2011 that culminated in the extrajudicial killing of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
This prompted a curt response from North Korean Vice Minister Choe Son Hui, who called Pence a "political dummy" for his remarks and threatened a "nuclear-to-nuclear" showdown with the United States.
"As a person involved in the US affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the US vice-president," Choe said in a statement. "Before making such reckless threatening remarks without knowing exactly who he is facing, Pence should have seriously considered the terrible consequences of his words."
Hours later, Trump sent a letter to Kim announcing that "sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting." Curiously, Trump admitted in the letter that his decision to withdraw from the summit is "to the detriment of the world."
However, North Korea still appears game for a meeting. Kim Kye Gwan, a top official at North Korea's Foreign Ministry, released a statement Thursday condemning Trump's decision but making clear that North Korean officials are still willing to negotiate with their U.S. counterparts.
"We reiterate to the US that we are willing to sit face to face at any time and in any way," the statement said. "Our goal and will to do everything for peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the mankind remains unchanged, and we are willing to give time and opportunity to the US, always with a big and open mind." He added that Trump's decision to cancel the summit "is not in line with the wishes of the who hope for the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula as well as the world."
At least one North Korea expert believes that the summit will still happen. Leon Sigal, the director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council, told Time that Trump is most likely just playing "hard to get," and cited the conciliatory language he used in his letter to Kim.
“If you read his letter carefully, it says things like, ‘I feel it is inappropriate at this time to have the summit’ or ‘We had a wonderful dialogue,'” Sigal said. “There are like six sentences like that. What’s happening is, the critics are saying Trump was too eager for the meeting. Now he’s playing hard to get.”
Several Republican Senators, meanwhile, praised Trump for cancelling the meeting, with South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham telling CNN that Trump has "done a good job of making diplomacy real."