Lawmakers on Capitol Hill remained hopeful Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will still occur, despite new threats from Pyongyang that Kim may scuttle the meeting.
"We haven't been notified at all, we'll have to see," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Wednesday. "We haven't seen anything, we haven't heard anything. We will see what happens."
Trump announced last week that he is scheduled to meet Kim in Singapore on June 12, marking what would be the first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader since the Korean War. It follows Kim’s first face-to-face meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in late last month as relations between the Koreas appeared to thaw somewhat.
However, North Korean officials angered by annual joint U.S./South Korean military exercises said Tuesday Kim would cut off high-level talks with Moon. They later warned that Kim would not participate in a summit with Trump if the U.S. demands North Korea unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons, which is exactly what the U.S. has been demanding all along.
“If they try to push us into a corner and force only unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in that kind of talks and will have to reconsider ... the upcoming summit," said Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s vice minister for foreign affairs, in a statement published by the state-run Korea Central News Agency.
Kim Kye Gwan’s statement also rejected the prospect of accepting U.S. economic assistance in exchange for denuclearizing.
The South Korean government issued a statement Wednesday saying preparations for the summit will continue despite Kim’s sudden hesitation.
Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., said Wednesday he had been encouraged by the recent meeting between Kim and Moon, but he fears Trump has not been clear enough with U.S. allies about his strategy as the summit date approaches.
“He should be doing everything possible to work with both the South and the North and with the rest of the region, with our allies to come up to peace and a solution to this problem,” he said.
Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, said he is unsure if the Trump/Kim summit will happen after the latest drama, but he supports the president’s general “maximum pressure” approach to the conflict.
“I don’t know is the short answer, but the fact that we’re talking is a good thing,” he said. “One of the things we can’t do is we can’t stop the diplomatic pressure that has been put on North Korea.”
Trump administration officials have maintained that economic sanctions and other restrictions will not be lifted until North Korea verifiably disarms. Disagreements over what exactly constitutes denuclearization and what the North Koreans would demand in exchange for it have stymied negotiations in the past.
Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., dismissed the North Korean threat to pull out of the talks as a “negotiating ploy,” and he believes Trump’s national security team is prepared to deal with it.
“I think it’s posturing,” he said. “We know from past experience with the North Koreans, they like to play games during negotiations.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders suggested Trump is willing to walk away from the summit if North Korea is not serious about disarming.
"This is something that we fully expected,” she told reporters on Wednesday morning. “The president is very used to and ready for tough negotiations, and if they want to meet, we'll be ready, and if they don't, that's okay, too.”
According to Hurd, it would be better for everyone if lines of communication remain open.
“The whole world should hope we can solve this diplomatically, but this latest issue of the last few days is a step in the wrong direction,” he said.