WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump sought on Thursday to placate North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un after Pyongyang threatened to scrap an unprecedented summit, saying Kim’s security would be guaranteed in any deal and his country would not suffer the fate of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.
Trump said that as far as he knew the meeting with Kim was still on track, but that the North Korean leader was possibly being influenced by China after two recent visits there.
Trump distanced himself from comments by his national security adviser John Bolton that North Korea cited when casting doubt on the summit, which is planned for June 12 in Singapore.
“North Korea is actually talking to us about times and everything else as though nothing happened,” Trump said. He was speaking to reporters at the start of an Oval Office meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Trump said he was not pursuing the so-called “Libya model” in getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Bolton had suggested the Libya model in comments on Sunday, prompting North Korea to threaten to cancel.
Gaddafi was deposed and killed after Libyans joined the 2011 Arab Spring protests, aided by NATO allies who had encouraged him to give up his banned weapons of mass destruction under a 2003 deal. Analysts have suggested Pyongyang will have bristled at the notion North Korea could suffer the same fate if it makes concessions on its nuclear program.
Trump said the deal he was looking at would give Kim “protections that will be very strong.”
“He would be there, he would be running his country, his country would be very rich,” Trump said.
“The Libya model was a much different model. We decimated that country,” he said.
Trump said the Libya model would only come into play if a deal could not be reached with North Korea, but did not elaborate.
“We cannot let that country have nukes. We just can’t do it,” he said of North Korea, which has been working on missiles capable of hitting the United States.
North Korea, which has abruptly changed tone in recent days after weeks of warming toward South Korea and preparations for the U.S. summit, said on Wednesday the meeting with Trump might not take place if the United States continued to demand it unilaterally abandon its nuclear arsenal
The United States has demanded the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible” dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which Pyongyang has rejected.
North Korea has given no indication that it is willing to go beyond statements of broad support for the concept of denuclearization.
It has said in previous, failed talks that it could consider giving up its arsenal if the United States removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.
Trump told reporters that if the meeting with Kim happens then “it happens” and if not the United States will go on to the next step. Again he did not elaborate.
Cancellation of the summit, the first between U.S. and North Korean leaders, would deal a major blow to what could be the biggest diplomatic achievement of Trump’s presidency.
This comes at a time his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has drawn criticism internationally and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has fueled deadly violence on the Israel-Gaza border.
Reporting by Steve Holland, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick; Witing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Frances Kerry