How South Korea Is Reacting To the Cancellation Of U.S.-North Korea Summit

May 24, 2018
Originally published on May 24, 2018 7:06 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

To get a sense of how today's announcement is playing in South Korea, let's turn now to NPR's Elise Hu in Seoul. Hi, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: It seems South Korean President Moon Jae-in was as invested in these talks as anyone. He met with Kim Jong Un, was at the White House just this past week meeting with President Trump. What is the reaction from his team to the cancellation of these talks?

HU: There's no question that this blindsided not only the Moon Jae-in team but South Korea's government in general. Moon says that he's, quote, "baffled and very regretful that the North Korea-U.S. summit planned for June 12 isn't happening."

SHAPIRO: Does he blame one side or the other?

HU: Moon did kind of get off an understated and pointed criticism in his response. He noted that the problem here may lie in the way the countries communicated through the public rather through back-channel diplomacy and that it would be difficult to resolve a - you know, a sensitive diplomatic issue through the methods of communication that were currently being employed. So Moon is still holding out hope that the U.S. and North Korea will resolve issues through direct dialogue rather than what's been playing out in the last 24 hours or so, which is rather, you know, public rhetoric being traded.

SHAPIRO: The Trump administration is blaming North Korea for this. They say beyond the rhetoric, the North Koreans never showed up in Singapore to prepare for the summit as arranged, that even the big show of destroying North Korea's main nuclear test facility fell short since they only invited journalists and not experts. Help us unpack this.

HU: Sure. There's a lot to unpack. On the logistics meeting where North Korea didn't show up, we have to keep in mind the context, which is that North Korea often makes 11th-hour decisions after not showing up or total silence or no explanation of its behavior. It's pretty par for the course for North Korea negotiating behavior or pre-negotiation behavior - this week, as an example, where not only did North Korea not show up to a planning meeting; it also wasn't allowing South Korean journalists into its big nuclear site dismantlement, did not grant visas, no explanation until the morning of. The morning of the trip to Punggye-ri to actually see this dismantlement, it suddenly allowed South Korean journalists to fly in by a government plane.

The Olympics is another example of this. North Korea will often sort of test the leniency of its negotiating partner. So last - all last year, Moon Jae-in was trying to make efforts to get North Korea to participate in the Olympics. North Korea just never responded. It went months without responding until the last-minute, if you will, change of course where it agreed to participate and took part in the unified team that we saw at the Olympics in February. So, you know, this is not a huge surprise. What is a little bit more surprising is that U.S. negotiators are citing it as a reason for pulling out because, you know, those with background and history with North Korea wouldn't have been surprised by this behavior.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Elise Hu speaking with us from Seoul, South Korea, about the cancellation of the summit between President Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong Un. Elise, thanks as always.

HU: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVIL NEEDLE'S "THE GROOVE")

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And since we spoke to our reporter Elise Hu, North Korea has issued a statement. They say they're still open to talks with the Trump administration, adding, quote, "the abrupt announcement of the cancellation of the meeting is unexpected for us, and we cannot but find it extremely regrettable."

(SOUNDBITE OF EVIL NEEDLE'S "THE GROOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.