President Donald Trump on Friday warmly welcomed North Korea’s promising response to his abrupt withdrawal from the potentially historic Singapore summit and said “we’re talking to them now” about putting it back on track.
“Everybody plays games,” said Trump, who often boasts about his own negotiating tactics and skill.
The president, commenting as he left the White House for a commencement speech, said it was even possible the summit could take place on the originally planned June 12 date.
“They very much want to do it, we’d like to do it,” he said.
Earlier Friday, in a tweet, he had called the North’s reaction to his letter canceling the summit “warm and productive.” That was far different from his letter Thursday to North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, blaming “tremendous anger and open hostility” by Pyongyang for the U.S. withdrawal.
The tone from both sides was warmer on Friday. First, North Korea issued a statement saying it was still “willing to give the U.S. time and opportunities” to reconsider talks “at any time, at any format.”
Ohio leaders react
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, was in Dayton Friday and said he was not surprised President Trump called off the summit with North Korea, but was hopeful direct negotiation would happen to cause the regime to disarm its nuclear capability.
“I’ve been one of those people calling for direct negotiations with North Korea, not because they are a country that we should reward or that we can trust, but because we should have direct negotiations with any country that has this nuclear weapons capability,” said Portman, R-Ohio.
He said global sanctions imposed on North Korea were a “good news” story that worked.
“It’s a good example of where if you can get the international community (together) on something, and it really is a diplomatic effort, you can put enough pressure on a regime, even a regime as evil as this one where they say, ‘OK, we want to come to the table and talk,’” said Portman, who also noted North Korea’s recent release of three American detainees.
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Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he was “disappointed” that the talks would not take place in June, but is hopeful groundwork can be laid for a future summit.
“We all agree a denuclearized North Korea must be our goal,” he said.
Democratic Ohio House members, meanwhile, were more critical of Trump’s approach.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo said North Korea “is not an honest broker” and said that “rushed attempts to deter that nation from its decades-long tradition of brutal and unstable dictatorships will not be effective.”
“Validating Kim Jong Un with the direct involvement of the President may well be premature when dealing with an immature dictator,” she said, but urged Trump to continue to pursue high-level diplomatic talks.
North Korea, U.S. Defense leaders respond
Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan called Trump’s withdrawal “unexpected” and “very regrettable,” and said the cancellation of the talks showed “how grave the status of historically deep-rooted hostile North Korea-U.S. relations is and how urgently a summit should be realized to improve ties.”
Then Trump, in his response to that response, said 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!”
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the recent back-and-forth between Trump and North Korea the “usual give and take.”
The president’s surprise exit from the planned talks on Thursday had capped weeks of high-stakes brinkmanship between the two unpredictable leaders over nuclear negotiating terms for their unprecedented sit-down. The U.S. announcement came not long after 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 U.S. expectations for the North’s “denuclearization.”
Catherine Lucey and Zeke Miller of the Associated Press contributed to this report.