Donald Trump said on Friday evening that his administration was holding “very productive talks” with Pyongyang about resurrecting a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that the US president abruptly cancelled on Thursday.
“We are having very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th, and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date,” Mr Trump tweeted.
Earlier on Friday, Mr Trump suggested that the summit could proceed despite Thursday’s move. “They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it,” the president told reporters in comments that sent shockwaves through Washington for a second successive day.
Friday’s dramatic change in stance came after North Korea issued an unexpectedly moderate response to his decision to cancel what would been a historic first meeting between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.
Many analysts thought North Korea would blame the US, but Pyongyang responded by saying it remained interested in holding the summit and was open to “resolving problems at any time”.
“We had set in high regards President Trump’s efforts, unprecedented by any other president, to create a historic North Korea-US summit,” said Kim Kye Gwan, the North Korean vice-minister for foreign affairs.
Mr Trump welcomed what he described as a “warm and productive” statement. “We will soon see where it will lead, hopefully to long and enduring prosperity and peace.”
The development resurrected hopes that Mr Trump and Mr Kim could soon meet to try to find a solution to the crisis on the Korean peninsula that has escalated over the past year as Pyongyang has improved its nuclear and missile capabilities.
But it was unclear whether the US would have enough time to prepare for June 12 even if Mr Trump decided to go ahead. In explaining the decision to cancel the summit on Thursday, a White House aide said the North Korean team had not shown up in Singapore last week for a meeting with a US official who was arranging the summit.
“The ball is in North Korea’s court right now and there’s really not a lot of time,” said the aide. “There’s a certain amount of actual dialogue that needs to take place at the working level with your counterparts to ensure that the agenda is clear in the minds of those two leaders when they sit . . . June 12th is in 10 minutes.”
Many experts had questioned whether the US administration had properly paved the path for a successful summit, and raised concerns that Mr Trump was rushing to make a deal.
After Mr Trump announced the cancellation on Thursday, Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state, said the US had made the right decision since there was too wide a gap in expectations between what both sides wanted from the summit.
“We dodged a bullet in that we were clearly not ready,” Mr Armitage said. “I don’t doubt that our bureaucrats had covered every angle . . . but I’m quite sure our president had not done a minute of preparation. Kim was clearly ready from A to Z.”
But cancelling the Singapore meeting marked a personal failure for a US president who had staked his long-touted reputation for dealmaking on the summit with Mr Kim. In resurrecting the possibility of the summit, Mr Trump again displayed his ability to confound traditional foreign policy wisdom.
“The denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of permanent peace are historic tasks that can neither be abandoned nor delayed,” said South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who for months has been acting as an intermediary between the two adversaries.
The initial cancellation came one day after Choe Son Hui, a top North Korean official, said: “Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behaviour of the US.”
Ms Choe was responding to comments by Mike Pence, US vice-president, who proposed the “Libya model” for dealing with North Korea. He seemed to be implying that Mr Kim could meet the same fate as Muammer Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader who was killed by western-backed rebels in 2011, several years after he abandoned his nuclear programme in return for economic assistance.
John Bolton, the US national security adviser who has previously advocated regime change in North Korea, has also referred to the “Libya model”. Critics have accused him of using the phrase to scupper the summit, while his defenders argue that he was talking about the initial nuclear deal rather than the demise of Gaddafi, whose death came shortly before Mr Kim assumed power on the death of his father in North Korea.
Additional reporting by Song Jung-a
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi