Donald Trump has warmly welcomed North Korea’s promising response to his abrupt withdrawal from a potentially historic summit and said “we’re talking to them now” about putting it back on track.
“Everybody plays games,” said the US president, who often boasts about his own negotiating tactics and skill.
Mr Trump said it was even possible the summit could take place on the originally planned date, June 12.
“They very much want to do it, we’d like to do it,” he said.
Earlier he had called the North’s reaction to his letter cancelling the summit “warm and productive”.
That was different to his letter on Thursday to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, blaming “tremendous anger and open hostility” from Pyongyang for the US withdrawal.
The tone from both sides was warmer on Friday. First, North Korea issued a statement saying it was still “willing to give the US time and opportunities” to reconsider talks “at any time, at any format”.
Then Mr Trump replied in turn, saying it was “very good news”, and “we will soon see where it will lead, hopefully to long and enduring prosperity and peace. Only time (and talent) will tell!”
The president’s surprise exit from the planned talks had capped weeks of high-stakes brinkmanship between the two unpredictable leaders over nuclear negotiating terms for their unprecedented sit-down.
The US announcement came not long after Mr Kim appeared to make good on his promise to demolish his country’s nuclear test site, but it also followed escalating frustration — and newly antagonistic rhetoric — from North Korea over comments from Trump aides about US expectations for the North’s “denuclearisation”.
After that, however, a senior White House official said the North had reneged on its promises ahead of the summit. Mr Trump said a “maximum pressure campaign” of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation would continue against North Korea — with which the US is technically still at war — though he added that it was possible the summit could still take place at some point.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a staunch ally of Mr Kim, said the North Korean leader had done “everything that he had promised in advance, even blowing up the tunnels and shafts” of the site.
Mr Putin said of Mr Trump’s cancellation announcement: “In Russia we took this news with regret.”
Mr Trump, in his letter to Mr Kim, objected specifically to a statement from a top North Korean Foreign Ministry official, which referred to vice president Mike Pence as a “political dummy” for his comments on the North, and said it was up to the Americans whether they would “meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown”.
Underscoring the high stakes, Mr Trump said he had spoken with military leaders, as well as Japan and South Korea, and stressed that the US was prepared for any threat.
Mr Trump’s cancellation announcement appeared to surprise South Korea, which had pushed to keep the summit on track as recently as Tuesday, when President Moon Jae-in met Mr Trump in the Oval Office and said the “fate and the future” of the Korean peninsula hinged on the talks.