The White House said Wednesday that it “fully expected” threats by North Korea to potentially cancel Kim Jong Un‘s meeting with President Donald Trump. In a series of statements this week, the country’s state media agency said Kim was considering pulling out of the summit due to joint air force drills taking place in South Korea.
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“This is something that we fully expected,” press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at the White House today. “The president is very used to being ready for tough negotiations and if they want to meet, we’ll be ready, and if they don’t, that’s okay, too.”
Hours later, President Trump reacted to the statements for the first time when pressed by reporters in an Oval Office meeting alongside Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
“We haven’t been notified at all,” Trump said. “We’ll have to see. We haven’t seen anything, we haven’t heard anything. We will see what happens.”
North Korea’s announcement, issued Tuesday evening by state news organization KCNA, appeared to catch the State Department off guard, with spokesperson Heather Nauert telling reporters the U.S. had not heard from North Korea directly before the announcement.
Earlier Wednesday, Sanders clarified the administration’s plan if the summit were to be canceled.
“We’re going to continue with the campaign of maximum pressure if that’s the case,” Sanders said. “But like I said if they want to meet, the president will certainly be ready and we’ll be prepared. If not, that’s okay.”
Sanders also appeared to distance the Trump administration from comments its national security adviser, John Bolton, made this past Sunday regarding the denuclearization model being pursued on the Korean peninsula.
Bolton has repeatedly said that the administration plans to pursue “the Libya model,” which calls for a strict monitoring and inspection plan to ensure North Korea has denuclearized.
North Korea’s first vice minister for foreign affairs, Kim Kye Gwan, directly criticized the model in a lengthy statement Wednesday night, accusing U.S. officials of “provoking” the country with “unbridled remarks.”
“High-ranking officials of the White House and the Department of State including Bolton, White House national security adviser, are letting loose the assertions of so-called Libya mode of nuclear abandonment,” the statement read.
“The U.S. is miscalculating the magnanimity and broad-minded initiatives of the DPRK as signs of weakness and trying to embellish and advertise as if these are the product of its sanctions and pressure,” the statement added. “It is ridiculous comedy to see the Trump administration, claiming to take a different road from the previous administration, still clings to the outdated policy on the DPRK.”
Sanders told reporters gathered in the North Lawn driveway at the White House Wednesday that the Libya model is not a part of any administration policy she’s aware of.
“I haven’t seen that as part of any discussions, I’m not aware that that’s a model that we’re using,” Sanders said. “Again, this is the President Trump model. He’s gonna run this the way he sees fit. We’re 100 percent confident — as we’ve said many times before, as you all know, you’re aware — he’s the best negotiator, and we’re very confident in that.”
The episode has drawn parallels to the breakdown in the Bush Administration’s nuclear negotiations with North Korea in 2008. At the time, Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, balked at requests for a strict inspections program similar to what President George W. Bush had utilized to eliminate Libya’s nuclear program in 2003 and 2004.
“There’s not a cookie-cutter model on how this works,” Sanders said in response to Bolton’s championing of that model.