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What is Kim Jong Un's red line?

CNN national security analyst Sam Vinograd takes a look at how the US should approach Kim Jong Un ahead of a potential June 12 summit.

Posted: May 29, 2018 8:24 AM
Updated: May 29, 2018 8:35 AM

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un were planning to meet in Singapore on June 12, and, until just a few days ago, everything appeared to be on track.

Then the summit was off. Then it was on. Maybe.

Will it still happen? Who knows, but this should get you up to speed ... for now.

How did we get here?

Up until about two weeks ago, things seemed to be moving ahead as planned. The two sides had announced that the historic summit (a sitting US President has never met a North Korean leader) would take place June 12 in Singapore.

The first sign something was amiss was on May 15, when North Korea abruptly canceled a high-level meeting with the South Koreans. Pyongyang said it was angry about joint military drills between the US and South Korea.

The rhetoric reached fever pitch Thursday when a high-level North Korean Foreign Ministry official called US Vice President Mike Pence a "political dummy" for repeating a reference to the "Libya model" with respect to talks with North Korea.

The Libya model refers to the agreement Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi made to give up his nuclear weapons, only to be toppled by Washington-backed rebels years later. In the same bombastic statement, Pyongyang also threatened a nuclear showdown.

US officials said the personal attack on Pence and threat of nuclear war was the final straw.

Trump canceled the summit Thursday in a letter to Kim, citing the hostile rhetoric anger and amid concerns over North Korea's commitment to give up its nuclear weapons.

How did North and South Korea react to Trump's decision?

South Korea's President, Moon Jae-in (who was in Washington to talk North Korea with Trump last week) called an emergency meeting in the middle of the night once Trump canceled.

Moon looked grim faced in a photo released to the public. He was quoted as saying he was "perplexed by the decision."

North Korea then surprised many by responding to Trump's bombshell move without insults or bluster. The Friday statement from a top diplomat said Pyongyang regretted Washington's decision to nix the summit and said it was still willing to sit down with the United States.

Trump seemed to take kindly to the overture, telling reporters that he thought the statement was "very nice" and that Washington was continuing to talk to Pyongyang.

He even hinted that the summit could still happen on June 12.

"Everybody plays games. You know that," he told reporters when asked about the ongoing talks. "You know that better than anybody."

Confused? So were the Koreans

Kim Jong Un, it appears, wasn't sure what to make of all of this.

Friday afternoon Korean time, he reached out to Moon and said he wanted to meet in person (the two held their first summit together at the end of April).

Moon agreed, and the two sat down together Saturday afternoon -- a remarkably short amount of time to organize such a high-level meeting and only the fourth time leaders of the two Koreas have met face-to-face.

The meeting was kept secret until it was done.

Moon briefed reporters on his meeting with Kim Sunday, saying that both sides were still committed to moving forward.

Trump said late Saturday in Washington -- about the same time Moon was speaking reporters Sunday in Seoul --- that "we're looking at June 12th in Singapore. That hasn't changed and it's moving along pretty well."

A group of US diplomats traveled to Pyongyang Sunday for preparatory talks, while a separate team of officials from Washington left for Singapore to plan logistics.

So is the summit still on?

Right now, it appears so based on Trump's comments Saturday night. But that doesn't mean it's certain to happen, as the last few days have proven.

After all, this is a President who has unapologetically thrown out the rule book when it comes to diplomacy. Nuclear negotiations with North Korea appear to be no exception.

As the reality TV star-turned President likes to say, "we'll see what happens."

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