Don't look now, but it looks like President Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will happen after all. Trump had abruptly canceled the proposed meeting earlier in the month, but he told reporters on Friday that he and Kim will in fact meet on June 12 in Singapore, as originally planned.
Trump made the announcement after holding a summit in the Oval Office with a top North Korean diplomat. If the summit does proceed as planned, it will be the first time ever that an American president has met a North Korean leader face-to-face.
The original plans for the summit fell apart after Vice President Mike Pence suggested in an interview that the United States could use "the Libyan model" on North Korea if negotiations broke down, a reference to the 2011 bombing of Libya by Western forces. The implicit threat in Pence's comments prompted a North Korean official to call the vice president a "political dummy" and condemn the "ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out" of his mouth. In response, Trump canceled the summit, but expressed hope that it could be rescheduled in the future.
Now, it has.
"We'll be meeting on June 12 in Singapore," Trump told reporters Friday.
During the Oval Office meeting Friday, Trump was given a letter from Kim, which he described as "very nice" and "very interesting." In an unusual twist, however, the president then revealed moments later that he hadn't yet opened the letter, let alone read it.
"I purposely didn't open the letter," Trump told reporters outside the White House after the meeting. "I may be in for a big surprise, folks!"
A foreign government official told the Wall Street Journal that in his letter to Trump, Kim expresses the desire to meet and doesn't make any threats to the United States — but also makes no "significant concessions" regarding the country's nuclear program, which is the central point of contention between the United States and North Korea.
When asked if he believes the two countries will strike a major deal at the June 12 summit, Trump said, "I don't see that happening," though he held out for the possibility of additional negotiations after the Singapore meeting.
"I think it'll be a process," Trump told reporters Friday. "I never said it goes in one meeting [sic], I think it's going to be a process. But the relationships are building and that's a very positive thing."
The prospect of a meeting between Trump and Kim comes after weeks of apparent diplomatic progress between the United States, South Korea, and North Korea. Kim became the first North Korean leader to cross the southern border when he traveled there in April to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in; this was preceded by a secret meeting between Kim and then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who is now Trump's secretary of state.
The details of these negotiations remain under wraps. Broadly speaking, though, American and South Korean leaders want North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program, or at least make significant progress toward doing so, while North Korea is seeking relief from Western sanctions and possibly the removal of American troops from South Korea.
Chun Yung Woo, a former South Korean national security adviser, told the Atlantic in May that North Korea "hasn’t really committed to anything" specifically regarding denuclearization yet. North Korean state-run media announced Monday that the country is "advancing along the path taken by itself according to its timetable" in an effort to build a "a nuclear-free, peaceful world." Kim Hyun Wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, told the Atlantic that North Korea is more likely to support a gradual, step-by-step denuclearization process. Whether that's enough for the Trump administration remains to be seen.