The June 12 summit between the United States and North Korea could still proceed, US President Donald Trump said after Pyongyang dialled down its belligerent rhetoric and struck a conciliatory tone yesterday.
Asked by reporters before he boarded his Marine One helicopter, Mr Trump said the two sides are talking. "They very much want to do it. We would like to do it. We are going to see what happens."
His defence chief James Mattis sounded similarly hopeful, saying the meeting may be back on the cards if diplomats can pull it off.
North Korea had, just hours after Mr Trump abruptly cancelled the highly anticipated summit with its leader Kim Jong Un, issued an appeasing statement, saying there is "urgent necessity" for the talks, and that it is still open to meeting "at any time". Its latest tone was in sharp contrast to its antagonistic remarks over the past week, which included describing US Vice-President Mike Pence as a "political dummy".
First Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan maintained in a statement released yesterday that Mr Kim had been earnestly preparing for the meeting, which was to be held in Singapore in less than three weeks.
Mr Trump had on Thursday called the summit off, citing North Korea's "tremendous anger and open hostility". US officials said the North Koreans had broken promises and failed to show up for a planned meeting in Singapore last week.
Yesterday, Mr Trump appeared mollified, tweeting shortly before boarding his helicopter: "Very good news to receive the warm and productive statement from North Korea. We will soon see where it will lead, hopefully to long and enduring prosperity and peace. Only time (and talent) will tell!"
Mr Trump's decision had left many still reeling, not least of whom was South Korean President Moon Jae In, who had played a mediator role in nearly bringing the two political foes to the table.
The news also caught those involved in the summit in Singapore by surprise.
Sources told The Straits Times that personnel in several departments in the Singapore Police Force were told that any leave around the dates of the summit would not be entertained. The Singapore Armed Forces also had personnel on standby as Mr Trump was expected to arrive in Paya Lebar Airport on Air Force One. Yesterday morning, police employees were told their leave freeze was lifted. But shortly after Mr Trump renewed hopes of a June 12 meeting, they had their leave frozen once more, said sources.
At the American Embassy in Napier Road, teams had been working to ensure a smooth arrival for the US President. They were planning his itinerary as he was expected to be in Singapore for four days.
Employees were also making sure the Shangri-La Hotel, where he was scheduled to stay, also met the White House's requirements, such as for security.
The summit is still likely to happen eventually, said Dr Lee Sung-Yoon, professor of Korean Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. "There are victories to be won by both parties. Kim will have to make more concessions beyond decommissioning a tired nuclear testing site, perhaps agree to ship out some ballistic missiles and let inspectors access its Yongbyon nuclear reactor," Dr Lee said.
North Korea had, just before Mr Trump's surprise announcement on Thursday, dismantled its nuclear test site in the country's far north-east. "But Kim will, in due course, continue his two-act play of provocations and post-provocation peace ploys," Dr Lee cautioned.
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