The “will they—won’t they” debate continues when it comes to the United States’ possible summit with North Korea.
On Thursday, Choe Son Hui, a vice-minister in the North Korean Foreign Ministry, issued some strong words to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and suggested that North Korea may reconsider the planned June 12 meeting with President Donald Trump—even going so far as threatening a nuclear showdown.
“Whether the U.S. 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,” Choe said in an interview aired that on North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency and was reported by CNN.
Her comments followed a Monday Fox News interview by Pence, in which he seemed to perpetuate an earlier argument made by National Security Advisor John Bolton that the U.S. could end up pursuing the “Libya model” in North Korea.
Referencing Pence’s comments, Choe called the VP a “political dummy.”
“As a person involved in the US affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice president,” she continued.
The insult capped what’s been a tumultuous few days in U.S.-North Korean affairs, a sharp contrast to the hope—just a few weeks ago—that relations between the two countries had reached a historic turning point, moving away from threats of annihilation and name-calling toward possible peace.
So let’s review: how exactly did we get here?
In early May, Trump announced that he had agreed to a June 12 meeting in Singapore with North Korea—a message he fittingly shared on Twitter.
But after Bolton suggested last week that the U.S. might pursue the “Libya model” in its attempt to disarm North Korea of nuclear weapons, the North Koreans threatened to abandon the talks. Officials there argued that the country would not be willing to give up its nuclear weapons capability in return for economic aid from the U.S.
North Korea takes issue with the invocation of Libya. It calls to mind what happened eight years after Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs: NATO forces helped overthrow the leader, who was later beat up by rebel forces and killed. The nation remains in a state of turmoil.
Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s first vice minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called Bolton’s comments “an awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers.”
The world “knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met miserable fate,” he said.
Initially, Trump appeared to distance himself from Bolton’s comments, saying that the U.S. would not push for a Libya-style denuclearization—as long as the two countries reach a deal. But by Sunday, The New York Times reported that Trump had begun to fear that the summit would turn into a “political embarrassment,” and was seeking advice from aides as to whether he should see the June 12 meeting through.
During Pence’s Monday interview, the vice president repeated Trump’s stance, stating: “As the President made clear, this will only end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal,” he said.
When Fox News host Martha MacCallum said some could have seen Bolton’s comments as a threat, Pence contended that “it’s more of a fact.”
He said the U.S. would not “tolerate the regime in North Korea possessing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that threaten the United States and our allies.” Nevertheless, he said that the U.S. hopes for a “peaceable solution,” and that Trump “remains open to a summit taking place.”
But by Tuesday, Trump publicly cast doubt on the likelihood of the meeting, saying, “there’s a very substantial chance it won’t work out.”
“That doesn’t mean that it won’t work out over a period of time, but it may not work out for June 12,” he said.
Now, the North Koreans appear to be expressing their own skepticism. Choe explained that they will “neither beg the U.S. for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us.”
“In case the U.S. offends against our goodwill and clings to unlawful and outrageous acts, I will put forward a suggestion to our supreme leadership for reconsidering the DPRK-U.S. summit,” she added.
In regards to the Libya comments in particular, Choe was particularly offended. Comparing North Korea to Libya, which met “a tragic fate,” proves high-ranking U.S. politicians “know too little about us,” she said.
“To borrow their words, we can also make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up to now,” she added.
Despite the personal insults and threats of delay, preparations are still underway for the talks to take place early next month. White House officials are due to travel to Singapore this weekend to coordinate logistics with their North Korean counterparts, and North Korea followed through on its promise to blow up the tunnels at their nuclear test site Thursday morning.