President Trump cast doubt Tuesday on whether his planned historic summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un will take place, but the White House insisted the president and his staff are continuing to prepare, and an Asia expert said he believes the meeting will take place, though it might be delayed.
As Trump met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House he told reporters there’s “a chance – there’s a very substantial chance – [the meeting] won’t work out.”
“You never know about deals,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of deals. You never really know.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, however, later affirmed at the daily news conference Tuesday that the U.S. is continuing to prepare for the summit, and if North Korea seeks denuclearization, she said, it will take place.
“We remain clear-eyed in these negotiations, but we continue to prepare, and we’ll see what happens,” she said.
Noting Trump has promised Kim personal “protection,” a reporter asked why it’s the “morally right thing” to offer such a deal to a brutal dictator who, among other atrocities, is responsible for the death of an American citizen, Otto Warmbier.
“The goal and purpose is to have complete and total denuclearization of the peninsula, and the president has been up front about that portion of the conversation, and we will continue to move forward,” Sanders replied.
Trump ‘holds the cards’
Asia expert Gordon Chang, the author of “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World,” told Fox News on Tuesday said “the most important thing is not what Kim wants, but what is President Trump willing to do.”
Trump “holds the cards,” Chang said, because North Korea needs “sanctions relief.”
U.S. and U.N. sanctions, he said, are “crimping the flow of money to North Korea, and, of course, Kim does not want the U.S. to strike both his missile and nuclear facilities.”
“So, even without the use of force, there are a lot of things we can do to crimp even further the flow of money into North Korea,” he said.
Chang insisted the U.S. has even more leverage, because it hasn’t yet put pressure on North Korea’s “big-power sponsors,” China and Russia.
“We do that, and there’s no money going in to North Korea at all,” Chang said.
“So this is a question of Trump, it’s not a question of what Kim wants.”
Chang said he doesn’t agree with the belief that if the summit doesn’t happen June 12, it won’t happen at all.
“If it doesn’t happen June 12th, it will happen July 12th, August 12th,” he said. “You know, there are a lot of preparations, and according to what the president said today, there has not been agreement on the logistical issues. So, this could take place much later.”
Initially, Chang recalled, Trump told the South Koreans he expected the summit to take place in May.
Will it happen in June or another time in the near future?
“Yeah, I think so, because Kim wants to meet a sitting American president,” Chang said. “His father and grandfather wanted to do that. He wants to do it.”
Taking North Korea seriously
In an in-depth interview Sunday with the Fox News Channel’s Mark Levin, Chang discussed the history of nuclear negotiations with North Korea.
Before the current administration, North Korea was relatively low on the list of priorities for U.S. foreign policy, he said, allowing the regime to “lie, cheat and steal” while Washington wasn’t “paying that much attention.”
In sharp contrast, Trump has taken North Korea seriously, he said, leading to Kim Jong Un at least saying he will show up in Singapore June 12.
“Maybe it’s July 12, maybe it’s August 12, but I think it will happen,” he said.
Chang explained that what has made Trump’s approach different is the sanctions and the president’s declarations of his willingness to use force, “that he will not allow North Korea to strike the homeland.”
In addition, the appointments of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and John Bolton as national security adviser have “unnerved the North Koreans, and also the South Koreans and the Chinese.”
He cited a world-renowned expert on North Korea, Andrei Lankov, director of Korea Risk Group, who concluded in a recent article the policies of those three countries changed dramatically toward the end of last year because they were afraid of war.
“He doesn’t say the next line, which is, they’re afraid of war because of President Trump,” Chang said. “But that’s the reason why.”
Trump’s policy has created a “much bigger pathway to peace,” Chang said.
Levin recited the history of U.S. negotiation with North Korea over its nuclear program going back to 1994, when former President Jimmy Carter went as a private citizen to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung.
As WND noted in an analysis one year ago, Pyongyang’s chief tactic since then could be described as “nuclear blackmail,” essentially issuing periodic threats to launch a nuclear missile at U.S. allies in Asia, or the U.S. itself, followed by negotiations, an easing of sanctions and aid.
Chang said there is a “Kim family playbook” that Kim Jong Un learned from his father, Kim Jong Il, and his grandfather.
“Right now, though, the sanctions are really starting to hurt Kim Jong Un. You don’t have money, you can’t launch missiles. You can’t detonate nukes, ” Chang said.
“And you can’t engage in gift politics, which is basically a Kim ruler giving luxury items, Mercedes and Rolexes, to senior regime elements to buy loyalty.”
Evidence sanctions working
Chang told Levin evidence is surfacing that North Korea “is really hurting,” largely as a result of the sanctions.
He pointed to the North Korean soldier who defected Nov. 13 by crossing the DMZ to South Korea and was found to have 11-inch parasites in his stomach.
“That’s because they have human excrement as fertilizer. We’ve known that for a long time,” Chang said.
“What was really significant, though, was the soldier had uncooked kernels of corn in his digestive track, which meant that he was scrounging for food.”
The development is important, Chang said, because the soldiers assigned to the highly sensitive DMZ tend to be well-connected, often with family in Pyongyang.
“The regime had every reason in the world to keep this guy well fed. They couldn’t do it.”
Chang noted also that rations, even for elite officials, have been reduced, and China said the Kim family slush fund, Office 39, is running low of cash.
China not as cooperative?
An analysis of North Korea on the Strategy Page blog said many of the new defectors are officials who run into financial problems while engaged in corrupt activities and are confronted with the choice of “run or die.”
In February, a senior North Korean official named Kang, stationed in northeast China, slipped across the border and took top secret documents with him.
The North Korean government dispatched seven agents into China with orders to find Kang and execute him immediately.
The Strategy Page said the agents failed, “apparently because they were unable to obtain sufficient assistance from their Chinese counterparts.”
Another three agents, more experienced and better financed, were then sent after Kang with the same “execute on sight” orders.
But Kang managed to make his way to a European country, a NATO member, where he has sought asylum.
The Strategy Page noted that after a 2016 incident in which Thae Yong Ho, a senior North Korean diplomat, escaped with his wife and two sons to South Korea, Pyongyang ordered that senior officials posted abroad could no longer take their immediate families with them.
In Kang’s case, however, his son had recently been accused of corrupt activities and was apparently going to be punished.