US President Donald Trump said “we will have to see” if his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will go ahead.
Trump told reporters on Wednesday the United States has not been officially notified about North Korea’s threat to pull out of the meeting. “No decision, we haven’t been notified at all… We haven’t seen anything; we haven’t heard anything.”
Washington will insist that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons despite the threat to cancel the historic summit, said Trump.
North Korea threw the June 12 Trump-Kim meeting, to be held in Singapore, into doubt, saying it might not attend if the United States continued to demand that it unilaterally abandon its nuclear weapons.
“If the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the … summit,” said a statement by Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs.
He also derided as “absurd” comments by Trump’s top security adviser John Bolton who suggested discussions with North Korea should be similar to those that led to components of Libya’s nuclear programme being shipped to the US in 2004.
North Korea clashed with Bolton when he worked under the administration of former President George W Bush.
“We shed light on the quality of Bolton already in the past, and we do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him,” Kim Kye-gwan said.
The White House said it was still hopeful the summit would take place, adding that Trump was prepared for a tough negotiation.
“The president is ready if the meeting takes place,” Sarah Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, told Fox News. “If it doesn’t, we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign that’s been ongoing.”
Sanders said the North Korean comments were “not something that is out of the ordinary in these types of operations”.
Robert Kelly, a Koreas analyst from Pusan National University, told Al Jazeera that North Korea might be playing a game of political brinksmanship.
“If throwing a temper tantrum three weeks beforehand with these statements today, if that actually gets the North Koreans a better deal because Donald Trump is suddenly scared it might fall through and he makes an offer, that’s better,” said Kelly.
North Korea defends its nuclear and missile programmes as a necessary deterrent against perceived aggression by the US, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea.
It has long said it is open to eventually giving up its nuclear arsenal if the US withdraws its troops from South Korea and ends its “nuclear umbrella” security alliance with Seoul.