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Trump casts doubt over June 12 summit with Kim

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South Korean President Moon Jae In flew to Washington on Tuesday amid growing uncertainty about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's goals for the summit with US President Donald Trump.

Washington

US President Donald Trump expressed pessimism about whether the summit with North Korea's leader would take place, even as American officials pressed ahead with plans for a historic June 12 meeting in Singapore.

South Korean President Moon Jae In flew to Washington on Tuesday amid growing uncertainty about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's goals for the summit after his regime made remarks critical of Mr Trump's vision of "total denuclearisation". Mr Moon and Mr Trump offered few public remarks, but what little they did say suggested the odds of a breakdown are rising.

"There's a chance, a very substantial chance, it won't work out," Mr Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with Mr Moon. "I don't want to waste a lot of time and I'm sure he doesn't want to waste a lot of time. So there's a very substantial chance it won't work out and that's OK. That doesn't mean it won't work out over a period of time."

While the pace of diplomacy leading to the planned June summit has been fast, analysts who study Mr Kim's regime predicted that relations would get increasingly tested in the days and weeks leading up to what would be the first ever meeting between a North Korean leader and a sitting American president. Nonetheless, Mr Kim appears to be going ahead with plans to shut down his northern nuclear test site this week, with foreign reporters en route to North Korea to witness the event.

North Korea threatened to cancel the summit last week, citing remarks by US National Security Adviser John Bolton who said the regime could follow a "Libya model" of arms control. While arms control advocates cite Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi's 2011 decision to give up his weapons of mass destruction programme in exchange for an easing of sanctions as a success, North Korea views his subsequent death at the hands of Nato-backed rebels as a cautionary tale.

The sticking point between Washington and Pyongyang remains what it's been for years: What does "denuclearisation" mean and how is it carried out? American officials have repeatedly said they expect North Korea to accept "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation," while Pyongyang is seeking a phased process that could include a reduced American military presence in the region.

Denuclearisation "all in one would be a lot better" than a phased process, Mr Trump said on Tuesday. But he opened the door to a phased dismantling, saying that given the scale of North Korea's programme, it would make it difficult to dismantle it in a single step. "It would certainly be better if it were all in one. Does it have to be? I don't think I want to totally commit myself."

Mr Moon continued to express optimism about the summit during the Oval Office meeting. "I am very much aware there are many sceptical views" in the US about whether the summit would be successful, he said through an interpreter. "I have every confidence that President Trump will be able to achieve a historic feat."

Mr Trump said the US was prepared to guarantee Mr Kim's safety as part of a grand bargain. If they reach an accord, Mr Kim "will be very proud" of what he did for North Korea 25 years in the future, said Mr Trump.

"South Korea, China and Japan - and I've spoken to all three - they will be willing to help and I believe invest very, very large sums of money into making North Korea great," said Mr Trump. "His country will be rich."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed that idea in a news briefing on Tuesday, saying: "I do have a real sense that he would find American investment, American technology, American know-how a real value to his people, and it's something that he and I had a chance to speak about generally."

North Korea's first vice foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan, in a May 16 statement threatened to reconsider the summit, saying that the country "never had any expectation of US support in carrying out our economic construction". The regime has, however, complained about Trump administration efforts to maintain "maximum pressure" on Mr Kim with international sanctions and military exercises.

Mr Pompeo, who has met Mr Kim twice in recent months, was asked to place odds on the likelihood that the summit will go on as planned.

"I'm not a betting man," he said. "I wouldn't care to predict whether it will happen, only to predict that we'll be ready if it does." BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES

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