WASHINGTON: A "trail of broken promises" by the North Koreans, including keeping a team of US officials waiting in Singapore for a preparatory meeting, left the US President Donald Trump with no choice to cancel his proposed summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, according to a White House official familiar with the process.
It was on March 8 that a delegation visiting from South Korea came to the White House to deliver a message from Kim Jong Un to Trump.
The message conveyed from Kim was that he was committed to denuclearisation.
He also pledged to refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests and said he understood that routine joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States would continue, he said.
The official said the North Korean leader also expressed his desire to meet with Trump as soon as possible.
"In light of all this, President Trump accepted Kim Jong Un's offer to meet in person," he told reporters hours after Trump in an open letter to Kim said he was cancelling his June 12 summit meeting with him in Singapore.
Since that day, when Trump accepted Kim's invitation, the United States has made significant efforts to prepare for their meeting, and it has done so in good faith, said the official, who spoke with reporters on condition of anonymity.
"But there has been a trail of broken promises that gave the United States pause. Last week, North Korea objected to a routine annual joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea. They called our exercises "provocative military disturbances."
They cancelled their meeting with the South Koreans.
That constituted a broken promise," the official said He said after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his second trip to Pyongyang, North Korea promised that the two sides would meet in Singapore to jointly work on logistical preparations for the summit.
"The White House sent its Deputy Chief of Staff, who leads White House planning in advance of presidential visits and his advance teams to Singapore. They waited and they waited. The North Koreans never showed up," the White House official said.
"The North Koreans didn't tell us anything, they simply stood us up," the official said, giving details of the entire process.
Referring to the North Korean claims to have destroyed its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, he said the US certainly hopes that was the case, but it is not sure about it.
"What may be news to you is that Secretary Pompeo and the South Korean government were promised by the North Koreans that international experts and officials would be invited to witness and verify today's demolition. But that promise was broken," the official said.
"Instead, journalists were invited and we will not have forensic evidence that much was accomplished. It's possible that the tunnels were detonated in a way that will still allow them to be used in the future. And I think Ben Tracy of CBS News said it best. I just saw a report he filed. He said quote "the problem is we're journalists. We're not nuclear experts, so there was no one on site, no outside expert to verify that what North Korea claims it has done, closing its nuclear test site, has actually occurred," the official said.
He said the United States has over the past week made numerous attempts to communicate with the North Koreans, but they did not "respond".
"In fact, the first communication that we've received in a week arrived last night in the form of a propaganda release, in which North Korean regime issued a statement threatening the United States to quote "meet us in a meeting room or encounter us at a nuclear-to-nuclear showdown".
The letter claimed that North Korea was a quote "nuclear weapons state," and of course the North Korean regime also singled out and attacked the vice president of the United States," the official said.
So this strange lack of judgment combined with the broken promises over the past weeks and North Korea suspension of direct communication with the United States suggests a profound lack of good faith, he asserted.
"The president was always clear that he was prepared to walk away from this meeting and he has kept his word. The president, in his letter, showed that he remains open to meeting Kim Jong-un someday, but the president's overarching goal isn't a meeting, it has always been the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, and the president will never compromise the safety and security of the United States or our allies," the official said.
The move to cancel the summit apparently started Wednesday night after North Korea issued a strong statement slamming US Vice President Mike Pence.
"The president was briefed by his staff last night on this statement when it came in. The president took it in stride and slept on it. He gathered his national security team together this morning. He met with the vice president. He met with the chief of staff. He spoke with Secretary Pompeo and with John Bolton, and after considering it, he dictated this letter," the official said, adding that Trump dictated every word of the letter.
In the letter Trump said that sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in North Korea's most recent statement, he felt it was inappropriate at this time to have this long-planned meeting.