White House Cautious on Fate of US-North Korea Summit

The White House is taking a wait-and-see approach on whether next month's Singapore summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will take place after Pyongyang expressed sharp reservations about U.S. demands that it dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News on Wednesday, "We're ready to meet and if it happens, that's great. We're still hopeful that the meeting will take place."

She said that U.S. leader is prepared for "tough negotiations," but that if the June 12 summit is called off, "we'll continue the maximum pressure campaign" of economic sanctions against North Korea.

The fate of the summit was thrown into doubt after North Korea first Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said Pyongyang will have to "reconsider" whether to take part in the summit if the United States continues to demand that the regime unilaterally abandon its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Kim said North Korea will not be interested in the Trump-Kim summit if Washington tries "to push us unilaterally into a corner and force us to give up nukes."

The North Korean statement was the second in 24 hours that appeared to erode a period of improved relations between North Korea, South Korea and the United States. North Korea abruptly canceled high-level talks scheduled for Wednesday with the South, citing the current joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises. The North Korean news agency KCNA said the Max Thunder exercises are a "rehearsal for invasion" of North Korea and a provocation.

The statement also warned that the U.S. "will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities."

The Pentagon describes the Max Thunder exercises as a routine annual training to "enhance the ROK-U.S. alliance's ability to defend the ROK (South Korea) and enhance interoperability and readiness." It says this has been clear for many decades.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert pointed out that Kim has said he understands and appreciates the importance of such exercises to the United States. She said as of now, the U.S. is still going ahead with plans for the summit with Kim.

But others who have worked closely with the North over the years say there are hardliners who may want to sabotage diplomatic negotiations they believe could imperil the Kim dynasty.

Seoul said Wednesday's talks between the North and South were to have focused on demilitarization and plans to formally end the Korean War that occurred in the early 1950s.

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