South Korea is pushing to keep the planned summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump on track after Pyongyang warned it may call off the meeting over U.S. demands that it dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
South Korea’s National Security Council issued a statement Thursday pledging to “closely coordinate the countries’ positions through various channels” between Seoul, Washington and Pyongyang to ensure the summit “be held successfully under the spirit of mutual respect.”
The fate of the June 12 summit in Singapore was thrown into doubt Wednesday after North Korea first Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said Pyongyang will have to “reconsider” whether to take part in the summit if the United States continues to demand that the regime unilaterally abandon its nuclear weapons arsenal.
President Trump told reporters at the White House later Wednesday that the U.S. has not been notified if the summit will still take place.
“We’ll see what happens. Time will tell,” Trump said at the White House Wednesday. Trump said the U.S. will insist on denuclearization by North Korea.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News that Trump is prepared for “tough negotiations,” but that if the summit is called off, “we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign” of economic sanctions against North Korea.
WATCH: North Korea Cancellation Threats a Bargaining Tool, Analysts Say
The North Korean statement was the second in 24 hours that appeared to erode a period of improved relations between North Korea, South Korea and the United States. North Korea abruptly canceled high-level talks scheduled for Wednesday with the South, citing the current joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises. The North Korean news agency KCNA said the Max Thunder exercises are a “rehearsal for invasion” of North Korea and a provocation.
The statement also warned that the U.S. “will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities.”
The Pentagon describes the Max Thunder military exercises as a routine annual training to “enhance the ROK-U.S. alliance’s ability to defend the ROK (South Korea) and enhance interoperability and readiness.” It says this has been clear for many decades.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert pointed out that Kim has said he understands and appreciates the importance of such exercises to the United States. She said as of now, the U.S. is still going ahead with plans for the summit with Kim.
But others who have worked closely with the North over the years say there are hardliners who may want to sabotage diplomatic negotiations they believe could imperil the Kim dynasty.
Seoul said Wednesday’s talks between the North and South were to have focused on demilitarization and plans to formally end the Korean War that occurred in the early 1950s.
VOA's Steve Herman and Michael Bowman contributed to this report.