In new twist, Trump says talks not dead

Singapore summit with Kim still on the table, he states

Posted: May 26, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

President Trump speaks about North Korea in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in this photo.

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump said Friday that his administration was back in touch with North Korea and that the two sides may reschedule his summit meeting with Kim Jong Un, perhaps even on the original June 12 date, reversing course just a day after the president canceled the get-together.

"We'll see what happens," Trump told reporters. "It could even be the 12th," he said. "We're talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We'd like to do it. We'll see what happens."

Later Friday, Trump wrote on Twitter that the summit "will likely remain in Singapore on the same date" but that it could also be scheduled for a later date.

Trump indicated earlier in the day that he was pleased with a conciliatory statement released by North Korea after his decision Thursday to scrap the summit, and he brushed off concerns raised privately by his staff and publicly by his allies and adversaries alike that Kim was playing him.

"Everybody plays games," he told a reporter. "You know that."

The president's comments were the latest twist in the diplomatic dance with North Korea. After threatening "fire and fury" against North Korea and dismissing Kim as "Little Rocket Man" last year, Trump abruptly accepted an invitation to meet -- and with little consultation with his advisers.

He just as suddenly called off the meeting Thursday morning, after North Korean officials failed to show up for a planning meeting in Singapore and issued a statement calling Vice President Mike Pence a "political dummy" for suggesting that Kim could meet the same grisly fate as Libya's Moammar Gadhafi if he did not give up his nuclear weapons.

But Trump still sounded eager to pursue a relationship and a deal that he has mused could win him the Nobel Peace Prize. And North Korea picked up on that by reacting calmly to the cancellation, issuing a statement saying that "with a broad and open mind, we are willing to give the United States time and opportunity" to come back to the table.

Trump responded positively on Twitter on Friday morning.

"Very good news to receive the warm and productive statement from North Korea," he wrote. "We will soon see where it will lead, hopefully to long and enduring prosperity and peace. Only time (and talent) will tell!"

At the same time, he accused Democrats of hoping for failure. "Democrats are so obviously rooting against us in our negotiations with North Korea," he wrote.

Democrats denied that but lamented what they called the chaotic handling of the situation.

"This is pretty haphazard process that we've seen," Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on CNN. "The president seems to be functioning more along the lines of a high stakes real estate deal with intimidation and pain and then trying to get an agreement."

"Diplomacy's much more difficult," he added. "It's not a win-lose like real estate. You've got to find a win-win."

Udall rejected the notion that Democrats hope for failure.

"I'm never rooting against our country and a president reaching an agreement that's in the best interest of the United States of America, and I want to see that happen," he said. "I'm not so sure the way this was approached that they have a strategy, they have the discipline, that they were going to pull it together and do this in a diplomatic way."

'USUAL GIVE AND TAKE'

While the president on Friday did not detail the nature of the new U.S. communication with the North, Defense Secretary James Mattis said at the Pentagon: "The diplomats are still at work on the summit, possibility of a summit, so that is very good news."

He characterized the recent back-and-forth as the "usual give and take."

Asked if White House aides will still travel to Singapore this weekend to work on logistics for the trip, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "We'll see" and "we'll be ready, one way or the other."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke Friday with a top official from South Korea, whose leaders had appeared to be taken aback when Trump withdrew from the summit.

[NUCLEAR NORTH KOREA: Maps, data on country’s nuclear program]

State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said Pompeo and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha reaffirmed their "shared commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" and pledged to coordinate "in all of their efforts to create conditions for dialogue with North Korea."

The U.S. and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic relations, complicating the task of communicating between the two governments. Under the Trump administration, the CIA, where Pompeo served as director before becoming secretary of state, has taken an unusually prominent role in back-channel negotiations.

Pompeo last year assembled a working group at the CIA called the Korea Mission Center, which gradually assumed the lead role in talks with the North Koreans, and the group's director, a retired senior CIA official with deep experience in the region, became the main U.S. interlocutor with Pyongyang.

The group did not supplant the State Department's traditional mode of communication with the North, which is known as the "New York Channel" and involves U.S. diplomats and their North Korean counterparts posted to the United Nations. But it did play the key role in organizing Pompeo's two trips to Pyongyang, once as CIA director and once as secretary of state.

Analysts noted that China and South Korea's prominence in the U.S.' efforts to rein in the North had fallen by the wayside.

"The multilateral pressure coalition has fallen apart," said Mira Rapp-Hooper, an East Asia expert at Yale Law School's Paul Tsai China Center.

The United States had relied on Beijing to enforce international sanctions against North Korea, given that 90 percent of the isolated state's trade goes to or through China. But on Thursday, Pompeo said more sanctions against the Norht are coming, and that will require China's involvement, experts said.

But in Asia, many blame Trump, not Kim, for the sudden collapse of diplomacy this week. Especially in China, Kim looks like the levelheaded leader who was trying to build confidence -- by releasing American detainees and blowing up its nuclear testing site -- while Trump looks unreliable.

"America's national image has been damaged ever since Trump announced his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal," the Global Times, a newspaper controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, wrote in an editorial Friday. "The cancellation of the Singapore meeting will only enhance its negative image, regardless of any explanation provided by Washington."

RAPPING DEMOCRATS

Speaking with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday before departing for Annapolis, Md., where he addressed the commencement of the U.S. Naval Academy, Trump did not respond to questions about the FBI informant who contacted some of his campaign advisers during the 2016 presidential campaign.

But before leaving the White House, he issued a string of accusatory Twitter messages asserting that it was part of a political plot against him.

"Can anyone even imagine having Spies placed in a competing campaign, by the people and party in absolute power, for the sole purpose of political advantage and gain?" he wrote. "And to think that the party in question, even with the expenditure of far more money, LOST!"

An informant working for the FBI contacted three campaign advisers as part of an investigation into whether Russia was interfering in the U.S. election. No evidence has surfaced suggesting that it was inspired by the party in power. James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, has said neither President Barack Obama nor his White House knew about the informant.

Trump on Friday also accused his political opponents of trying to coddle gang members.

In the same tweet in which he claimed Democrats were "rooting against" the talks with North Korea, the president wrote that they are coming to the defense of "MS 13 thugs, saying that they are individuals & must be nurtured, or asking to end your big Tax Cuts & raise your taxes instead. Dems have lost touch!"

He was referring to the violent MS-13 gang, whose members he has publicly branded "animals."

Trump has doubled down on his use of that language, calling out House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for criticizing him for it.

"Just the other day, Nancy Pelosi came out in favor of MS-13. ... She wants them to be treated with respect."

Pelosi did not endorse the gang, but took aim at Trump's use of the word "animals," saying, "Calling people animals is not a good thing."

She added that "we all have to recognize that as we respect the dignity and worth of every person."

In his Friday tweet, Trump also made mention of the $1.5 trillion tax cut package Republicans pushed through Congress. It provides significant tax cuts for corporations and the most prosperous Americans, and Democrats depicted it as a payout to the GOP's largest donors.

"They want to increase your taxes and spend money on things that you don't even want to know about," Trump has said of Democrats.

Information for this article was contributed by Peter Baker of The New York Times; by Catherine Lucey, Zeke Miller, Matthew Pennington, Matthew Lee, Robert Burns and Anne Flaherty of The Associated Press; and by Anna Fifield and Emily Rauhala of The Washington Post.

A Section on 05/26/2018