After days of increasingly bellicose statements from Pyongyang, President Donald Trump on Thursday pulled the plug on a scheduled June 12 summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but left the door open to future negotiations over efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
"If and when Kim Jong Un chooses to engage in constructive dialogue and actions, I am waiting," the President said at the White House.
"The ball is in North Korea’s court right now,” said a senior White House official.
Mr. Trump's remarks came several hours after he publicly released a letter to Kim Jong Un, calling off their summit, as U.S. officials laid the blame directly on the North Koreans, saying the Kim regime failed to send people to organizational meetings last week in Singapore, as the chances for the summit seemed to get dimmer on a daily basis in recent weeks.
"While many things can happen and a great opportunity lies ahead, potentially, I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and, indeed, a setback for the world," the President said.
Both in his letter to Kim, and in his public remarks, the President edged back toward some of the tougher rhetoric that had characterized the Kim-Trump relationship of last year, when the two men lobbed threats of possible military action.
"Hopefully, positive things will be taking place with respect to the future of North Korea. But if they don’t, we are more ready than we have ever been before," Mr. Trump said.
His letter was even more direct.
"You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used," Mr. Trump wrote, labeling the cancelled summit a 'missed opportunity.'
A White House official said President Trump's warning about the use of US military force was done specifically to send a message to Pyongyang, and respond to what officials felt was a threat in a statement made Wednesday night by the North Koreans.
In a briefing for reporters, the senior official said the goal of the President was still the same - a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers asked the Secretary of State - who happened to be at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - what would happen next, as Secretary Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would continue with the "maximum pressure" campaign of economic sanctions against Pyongyang, and wait for the response of Kim Jong Un.
"I am hopeful that we can continue to have conversations so that we can put his back on track," Pompeo said, though he admitted it was not clear why the North Koreans suddenly went from being willing partners to not answering phone calls.
"I don't really know I want to speculate why they took those actions, because I don't think we know," Pompeo added.
"In some ways, it’s situation normal," Pompeo said to one question. "The pressure campaign continues."
Pompeo sparred with several Senate Democrats during the hearing, as he rejected assertions that the U.S. had rushed into a summit with Kim, and wasn't really prepared to deal with a North Korean leader who is known for sudden course changes.
"Unfortunately, it seems that our chief diplomat is negotiating war," said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) of Pompeo.
"From the beginning, when Trump impulsively decided that he would meet with Kim Jong Un, it has been clear that the summit involved very little preparation," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
"We cannot return to the name-calling and saber-rattling of the last year," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA).