Sen. Cory Gardner says North Korea made summit 'impossible' after Trump cancels

"[Kim] will find way back to negotiating table."
Posted at 2:26 PM, May 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-24 21:23:42-04

DENVER – U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., laid the blame for President Donald Trump canceling a planned June 12 summit with North Korea Thursday at the feet of North Korea, saying of leader Kim Jong Un that “the propagandist prevailed over peace.”

Gardner, who chairs the Senate Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, said Trump “made the right decision” to cancel the meeting, which the president did in a letter to Kim on Thursday.

In his letter, Trump said he had to cancel the meeting “based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed” in a statement North Korea released Wednesday night in which they called Vice President Mike Pence “a political dummy” after he compared North Korea’s nuclear program to that of the former Libyan nuclear program.

“Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States,” North Korea’s statement said.

The White House took the message as a threat that the nation wasn’t interested in denuclearizing, despite North Korea demolishing some parts of its nuclear testing site earlier in the day.

"I was very much looking forward to being there with you," Trump wrote to Kim Thursday. "Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting."

Trump had agreed to the meeting in March without much consultation of his aides, prompting a handful of GOP congressmen to discuss the Nobel Peace Prize. But other White House aides had been skeptical the meeting might take place despite the lofty talk, according to the Associated Press.

But in the letter to Kim and in comments made later Thursday, Trump said he was open to having the summit at a later date.

Gardner told reporters on the Hill Thursday that it was Kim’s actions that led to the cancelation of the summit and said he’d spoken with Trump about moving forward if full North Korean denuclearization is on the table – a topic on which both countries have so far disagreed.

“I think Kim Jong Un has made a serious mistake in deciding to make it impossible for this summit to occur,” Gardner said. “I have spoken with the president about the need to move forward if, indeed, denuclearization was going to be possible. But Kim Jong Un has decided otherwise.”

Gardner said he believes North Korea “overplayed their hand” and that Kim was spreading propaganda instead of promoting peace. And he brushed aside a question about culpability on the behalf of the White House for the talks falling apart.

“The administration has been very transparent all along, saying this summit would not occur if denuclearization was not going to be on the agenda. And in the past several days, Kim Jong Un has made it clear that this possibility for peace wasn’t going to be a part of the upcoming summit. That is the mistake,” he said, adding that “if they decide peace is in their future, they can indeed have prosperity.”

Gardner stayed in line with the White House in saying the U.S. would continue to impart a “maximum pressure doctrine” on North Korea and called for Congress to pass a measure of his that aims to impose a full economic and diplomatic embargo against North Korea and its associates.

Gardner said that Trump’s letter to Kim was dictated by the president to national security adviser John Bolton and that Bolton said the letter was a “wake-up” to Kim, according to The Associated Press.

Gardner also hinted that Kim had walked away from the deal, despite Trump’s cancelation.

“We can’t want that peace more than Kim Jong Un does. If Kim Jong Un wants peace and prosperity for the people of North Korea, he will find a way back to the negotiating table,” Gardner said. “If he doesn’t, then his isolation and his economic devastation will continue.”

Gardner’s fellow senator from Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennet (D), called North Korea’s nuclear program a “grave threat” and said in a statement that North Korea’s actions certainly influenced the decision. But he also placed some of the blame on Trump himself.

“It is not surprising that North Korea derailed these negotiations,” Bennet said in the statement. “Instead of the emotional, outburst-driven ‘diplomacy,’ the President must do the hard work to develop a comprehensive strategy in coordination with our partners.”

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., meanwhile avoided getting into who canceled the meeting, and focused instead on North Korea’s statement.

“I could care less about the rhetoric between North Korea and the United States. What is important is that North Korea has a different definition of what denuclearization means,” Coffman said. “Until the North Koreans can agree to completely dismantle their nuclear weapons program, we need to continue to ratchet up the economic sanctions until we can arrive at an agreement to bring peace to the Korean peninsula.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in told ABC News he was “baffled and very regretful that the North Korea-US summit planned for June 12th is not happening.” He has played a major role in bringing the talks together.

“I am very perplexed and it is very regrettable that the North Korea-U.S. summit will not be held on June 12," Moon was quoted as saying, according to The Associated Press.

But Trump told reporters that he’d talked to the leadership in South Korea and Japan and said the nations were ready to assist in any possible future military intervention. The Pentagon, however, said that American troops on the Korean peninsula were on a normal state of alert Thursday.

And as has been the case since the notion of a summit was first discussed earlier this year, the possibilities of what comes next with the talks are wide open, Trump said in a statement about the summit: “A lot of things can happen.”