President Donald Trump declared Wednesday that he would scrap a planned summit meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, or even walk out of the session while it was underway, if his diplomatic overture was not heading toward success.
Trump continued to express optimism — verging on eagerness — about sitting down with the North’s reclusive leader.
But as the momentum for a meeting grows in both Washington and East Asia, the president acknowledged that it was a perilous undertaking that could still end in failure.
“If I think that it’s a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we’re not going to go,” Trump said at a news conference at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, standing alongside Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. “If the meeting, when I’m there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting.”
Trump’s words reinforced his decision to send CIA Director Mike Pompeo on a secret trip to meet Kim. Pompeo, nominated by Trump last month as secretary of state, played advance man for the president in Pyongyang, laying the groundwork for the planned meeting.
Among the potential hurdles for the gathering, Trump said, were three American citizens detained in North Korea. The president said that the United States was “fighting very diligently” to obtain their release and that there was a chance of positive developments. Still, Trump conspicuously declined to make their release a precondition of his meeting with Kim.
In preparing for the planned event, Trump’s decision to dispatch his CIA director reflected the president’s trust in and comfort with Pompeo, as well as how diplomats were sidelined in brokering what could be a landmark encounter.
Pompeo is still awaiting confirmation to his new post, and faces a challenging vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where several Democrats have come out against him.
But the visit underlines the confidence that Trump has developed in Pompeo, a former congressman who has emerged as one of the president’s closest advisers — a stark contrast to Rex W. Tillerson, whom Trump fired as secretary of state days after accepting Kim’s invitation to meet.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.