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Trump says North Korea meeting may be delayed, hints China is to blame

The president says Xi is a ‘world-class poker player’ and suggests Kim changed his tone after meeting with the Chinese leader.

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President Donald Trump on Tuesday suggested that his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be delayed and that Chinese President Xi Jinping may be responsible for a breakdown in the pre-summit talks.

Meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House, Trump said there was a “very substantial chance” the talks could be postponed from the scheduled date of June 12 if the countries fail to come to terms on various issues. He also hinted that the Chinese leader may be behind North Korea’s return to more aggressive rhetoric against the U.S.

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“If it doesn’t happen, maybe it will happen later,” Trump said of the meeting during an extended exchange with reporters in the Oval Office. “Maybe it will happen at a different time. But we will see. But we are talking.”

Questions have grown over whether the highly anticipated diplomatic talks will go on as planned next month in Singapore due to recent criticism from Pyongyang of joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. North Korea has also said it has no interest in a summit if the U.S. demands “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”

Trump on Tuesday floated that Kim’s meeting with Xi earlier this month may be linked to his country’s sudden hesitation to engage with the U.S. diplomatically.

“I think there was a little change in attitude from Kim Jong Un” after his second meeting with Xi in early May, Trump said. “So I don’t like that.”

Pressed on whether he believed Xi had discouraged Kim from meeting with U.S. leaders, Trump said “no” and that he wasn’t “blaming anybody.”

But he added: “President Xi is a world-class poker player and I’d probably maybe doing the same thing that he would do. But I will say this, there was a somewhat different attitude after that meeting and I’m a little surprised.”

Xi and Kim met for the second time in northern China over the course of two days earlier this month, according to the Associated Press, amid a continued thaw in relations in the region. At the summit, which was preceded by a secretive gathering by the two heads of state in late March, Kim reportedly reaffirmed his commitment to denuclearization in anticipation of the meeting with Trump.

Shortly after they met, Trump announced plans to speak with Xi about trade and North Korea, where the U.S. leader tweeted that “relationships and trust are building.”

Those relationships have been tested in recent months, though, as the president has challenged China to address their trade imbalance and threatened to impose major tariffs on their products.

The volatility of the dynamic was on full display Tuesday as Trump again voiced dissatisfaction with trade talks with China and denied reports his administration is nearing a deal to rescue Chinese telecoms giant ZTE. “I’m not satisfied, but we have a long way to go,” Trump said of the negotiations.

While Trump vowed as a presidential candidate to take a tougher stance on China and expressed a willingness to meet with Kim, his efforts to close deals on both fronts have bogged down as he simultaneously tackles two of the biggest foreign policy challenges of his presidency thus far.

Trump’s pessimism on the prospects of the meeting contrasted with a prediction offered by Chung Eui-yong, national security adviser to Moon, who placed the odds of Trump and Kim holding the summit as planned at “99.9 percent,” despite recent threats by the Pyongyang to withdraw from the gathering.

“We believe there is a 99.9 percent chance the North Korea-U.S. summit will be held as scheduled,” the official said, according to the Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency.

Robert Lighthizer is pictured. | Getty Images

But Chung added that officials are “preparing for many different possibilities” and making efforts “to understand the situation from the North’s perspective.”

Chung said that “South Korea and the U.S. have been sharing every bit of information and have remained in close coordination with each other” as the date for the diplomatic meeting with Kim nears.” He said the leaders on Tuesday would have “candid discussions on how to make the North-U.S. summit a success and produce significant agreements and how to best implement those agreements.”

Trump has insisted that talks with North Korean officials center around denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, a push that North Korea said could threaten its participation at the summit. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders framed the topic on Tuesday as a precondition for direct discussions with Kim.

But she added U.S. officials will continue to prepare for the summit should North Korea demonstrate an interest in following through with their plans.

“If they want to meet, we will certainly be ready,” Sanders said during the White House press briefing. “The president I think rightly stated that if North Korea commits to denuclearize, it will be a bright feature for them, but we remain clear-eyed in these negotiations.”

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