READ: The White House's background briefing on the North Korea Summit

President Donald Trump's motorcade arrives at the White House on May 13, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

MODERATOR: OK.

(UNKNOWN): It's good.
MODERATOR: Good to go?
(UNKNOWN): Yeah, we tested it so (inaudible). I'll interrupt you if I can't hear for some reasons, but we said that's fantastic (ph), if you can hear us.
    MODERATOR: Hey guys. Hey. This briefing's going to be on background. It's off camera and not for broadcast. (Inaudible) here can be referred to as a Senior White House Official. He is (inaudible). And he can take it from here.
    No, you guys can report on it. Senior White House Official.
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: You too. Thank you, good afternoon. So this morning, the President sent a letter to Kim Jong Un and the President dictated every word of the letter himself. He told Kim Jong Un that I was very much looking forward to being there with you.
    He said that sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel that -- I feel it is inappropriate at this time to have this long planned meeting.
    And therefore please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit for the good of both parties but for the detriment of the world will not take place. To understand the President's decision, I think it's important to review what's transpired since March 8th.
    It was on March 8th that a delegation visiting from South Korea came to the White House to deliver a message from Kim Jong Un to President Trump. The message conveyed from President -- or from Kim Jong Un was that Kim is committed to denuclearization.
    Kim pledged to refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests and Kim said he understood that routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States would continue. Kim also expressed his desire to meet with President Trump as soon as possible.
    In light of all this, President Trump accepted Kim Jong Un's offer to meet in person. Since that day, when President Trump accepted Kim Jong Un's invitation, the United States has made significant efforts to prepare for their meeting, and we have done so in good faith.
    But there has been a trail of broken promises that gave the United States pause. Last week, North Korea objected to a routine annual joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea. They called our exercises quote "provocative military disturbances."
    And they canceled their meeting with the South Koreans. That constituted a broken promise. On Secretary Pompeo's second trip to Pyongyang, North Korea promised to -- that the two sides would meet in Singapore last week to jointly work on logistical preparations for the summit.
    The White House sent its Deputy Chief of Staff, who leads White House planning in advance of presidential visits and his advance teams to Singapore. They waited and they waited. The North Koreans never showed up.
    The North Koreans didn't tell us anything, they simply stood us up. And today, to great fanfare, North Korea claims to have destroyed its Punggye-ri nuclear test site. And we certainly hope that that's the case, but we really don't know.
    What may be news to you is that Secretary Pompeo and the South Korean government were promised by the North Koreans that international experts and officials would be invited to witness and verify today's demolition. But that promise was broken.
    Instead, journalists were invited and we will not have forensic evidence that much was accomplished. It's possible that the tunnels were detonated in a way that will still allow them to be used in the future. And I think Ben Tracy of CBS News said it best.
    I just saw a report he filed. He said quote "the problem is we're journalists. We're not nuclear experts, so there was no one on site, no outside expert to verify that what North Korea claims it has done, closing its nuclear test site, has actually occurred."
    On the subject of communications between the United States and North Korea, I regret that the news has also been spotty. The United States has over the past week made numerous attempts to communicate with the North Koreans, but they have not responded.
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: In fact, the first communication that we've received in a week arrived last night in the form of a propaganda release, in which North Korean regime issued a statement threatening the United States to quote "meet us in a meeting room or encounter us at a nuclear-to-nuclear showdown."
    The letter claimed that nuke - that North Korea was a quote "nuclear weapons state," and of course the North Korean regime also singled out and attacked the vice president of the United States.
    So this strange lack of judgment combined with the broken promises over the past weeks and North Korea suspension of direct communication with the United States suggests a profound lack of good faith.
    The president was always clear that he was prepared to walk away from this meeting and he has kept his word. The president, in his letter, showed that he remains open to meeting Kim Jong-un someday, but the president's overarching goal isn't a meeting, it has always been the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the president will never compromise the safety and security of the United States or our allies.
    And with that, I'd be happy to take some questions. Yes.
    QUESTION: (Inaudible) clarifications real quick. Number one, the president alluded to a dialogue between himself and Kim Jong-un, did they speak personally? Did the two of them speak directly?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: The two have communicated through diplomacy, through Secretary Pompeo, and -- and the messages that -- that the secretary has carried.
    QUESTION: So not directly, then.
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Just -- actually (ph) just -- just as I stated.
    QUESTION: Did -- is Joe Higgins (ph) (inaudible) for the planning meeting this weekend?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I have no -- nothing to announce on that. It (ph) sounds a bit (inaudible).
    QUESTION: (Inaudible) why didn't we tell our allies before the president released a letter?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: So the president had constant communication with our allies. President had President Moon here earlier this week, just a couple days ago, and President Trump was very forthright in sharing his skepticism about North Korea's intentions to denuclearize, his skepticism about whether North Korea, in light of the things I just told you about, was even serious about going forward with a meeting and asked President Moon's advice.
    He shared with President Moon his concern that a meeting may not be able to happen under -- under these conditions, and we were in contact with the South Koreans and with the Japanese in Singapore this morning. Sir, yes.
    QUESTION: You -- you have a letter and it says, and I quote, talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours so massive and powerful, that I pray to god that they will never have to be used.
    It seems heavy handed, but was there an indication from North Korea that they didn't believe we had nuclear weapons or that in some way that they could take us on in a nuclear showdown?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Well I -- I think that -- that -- the -- the president -- I think it was hard for anyone to miss the implicit threat in the North Korean propaganda statement last night about a nuclear showdown, and the president saw fit to remind North Korea of the real balance of power here. (Inaudible).
    QUESTION: Our -- our -- well (inaudible) can I just clarify really -- so it is our -- the government's stance -- our government's stance that we believe that North Korea was trying to challenge us in a nuclear showdown?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I -- I -- you can interpret how you want, but what -- what the North Koreans wrote, but the president's letter I think speaks -- speaks pretty clearly for itself. Sir, and then I'll come over to this side, yes.
    QUESTION: What conditions will the president need to see in order to have his summit back on either on June 12th or in the future, especially given now that the North Koreans have shown that they will negotiate and act in bad faith as you said?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Yes, so I -- we'd need to see -- I guess in some ways, the opposite of all the things that I just described that have taken place over the past couple --
    (AUDIO GAP)
    Mark (ph).
    QUESTION: (Inaudible) one, what importance, if any, do you attach to John Bolton's discussion of the Libya president and North Korea's strong reaction to it? And then secondly, the president has twice alluded to the second meeting that Kim had with President Xi.
    What happened at that meeting that makes the president think that somehow North Korea's tone changed afterwards?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Yes, you know, I -- I would refer all of you actually to take a look at the -- the statement that a North Korean official put out a week ago. This is the 16 May statement, because if you look at it, what he was objecting to was not just a comment by any American official, he was objecting to a litany of things.
    Including the, quote, complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the peninsula. He was objecting to U.S. statements calling for the total decommissioning of nuclear weapons.
    He was objecting, in that statement, to comments about the importance of the unilateral nuclear abandonment on the part of North Korea. So complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.
    It's a mouthful, but it should be a familiar mouthful, because that's been U.S. policy going back to the George W. Bush administration. This has been our policy all along, so how can North Korea, a few weeks after in an -- in a inter Korean summit -- how could it declare that it is moving forward with the goal of complete denuclearization, but object to denuclearization in a statement two weeks later.
    It's a head scratcher. Ma'am, yes.
    QUESTION: (Inaudible) what about the (inaudible)?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I -- I mean the president, as you alluded to, I mean the president's made some public comments about his sense that after the second meeting between the Chinese and North Korean leaders, there was a shift in attitude.
    And we can only speculate as to exactly what was discussed or -- or why that might be, but the shift in attitude did not go unnoticed by the president. Ma'am and then (inaudible).
    QUESTION: First off (ph) can you just kind of tell us (ph) why this is background (ph) bracing (ph), (inaudible) given the I think (ph) the gravity of the information?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I -- you know, I -- I think we -- on the one hand, you have the president speaking today, now not only through this letter, but also in his comments at the top of the bill signing.
    Let -- let -- let the president's remarks stand. (Inaudible) Secretary Pompeo has been speaking today as well. So we're trying to give you -- we're trying to give you a little context on background basis, yes. (Inaudible).
    QUESTION: Can you clarify how much closer we are today or are we closer to a military confrontation, I mean after the (inaudible)?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Yes, I -- nothing to say in -- in that respect. What I would like to highlight is the president's comment today that our policy remains what it has been since the beginning of this administration when we undertook a policy review in the -- in the first days after the president took office.
    And that is a policy of maximum pressure, and -- and that is -- that is going to continue. Sir, yes.
    QUESTION: Can you clarify that the president announced the letter and (inaudible) summit is called off. But then later he said it's possible the existing summit could take place or a summit at a later date.
    Is he saying that it's possible that June 12th could still -- could still happen?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: That -- that -- that's --
    QUESTION: (Inaudible).
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: -- I think that the main point, I suppose, is that -- that the ball is in North Korea's court right now, and there -- there's really not a lot of time. We've -- we've lost quite a bit of time that we would need in order to -- I mean there's been an enormous amount of preparation that's gone on over the past few months at the White House, at State and -- and with other agencies and so forth.
    But there's a certain amount of actual dialogue that needs -- needs to take place at the working level with your counterparts to ensure that the agenda is clear in the -- in the minds of those two leaders when they sit down to actually -- and talk, and -- and negotiate, and -- and hopefully, make a deal. And June 12th is in -- in 10 minutes, and it's going to be, you know...
    But the president has said that he -- he has -- some day, that he looks forward to -- to meeting with Kim.
    Ma'am?
    QUESTION: Thank you for your (inaudible). I think a negotiation with North Korea is very difficult, is not easier. But before president write (sic) these letters, have you ever countered (ph) with South Korean (inaudible).
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, so I -- I referred to the discussions that the president's been having, including this week, directly with -- with President Moon. You know, the president was -- was briefed by his staff last night on -- on this statement when it came in. The president took it in stride and slept on it, and he -- he gathered his -- his national security team together this morning. He met with the vice president. He met with the chief of staff. He met with -- spoke with Secretary Pompeo and with John Bolton, and -- and after considering it, he dictated this letter.
    Ma'am? And then I'll come to you.
    QUESTION: Thanks. I -- I wanted to ask you, do you have assurances from China that they will continue to (inaudible) sanctions if we wanted (inaudible) to have taken on, or grant (ph) extensions. Do you have assurances that those will now continue? And what is the message for Iran, that Iran should take away from the president's response to Kim?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, in terms of China, yes, we -- we do have assurances. China helped co-author and passed unanimously, with the other security council members at the U.N., these U.N. Security Council resolutions that have -- that have all come into action over the course of 2017. So all countries, all U.N. members must abide by those resolutions, and -- and we'll be watching closely to ensure that they do.
    I -- I -- I, you know, I -- I -- the Iranians can -- can draw from this whatever they like. I think the -- the president's policy on Iran has been -- has been quite clear, and he's made good on the -- on the promises he made as a candidate, and in his first days of office after carefully reviewing the JCPOA and the progress there, he -- he made his decision recently on it.
    Sir, yeah?
    QUESTION: Two questions, one on South Korea, and one on Vice President Pence. You talked about the constant communication and work with the South Koreans, and yet, before President Moon arrived here, en route, his national security adviser placed the probability of this summit at 99.9 percent. That was just a day and a half ago, OK? It seems like there is a disconnect in expectations there. That's pretty significant.
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Yeah.
    QUESTION: Point one. That's -- that's...
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Right.
    QUESTION: I'd like you to talk to us about that. And then secondarily, can you give us a sense of how much the personal language, referring to the vice president specifically, played into the president's consultations last night and decision to cancel the summit?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Right. So when -- when President Moon and President Trump had the option to talk in depth about this, as I -- as I'd mentioned, we were able to convey to the South Koreans some things that -- that they may not have -- have been aware of in our own diplomacy and engagement with the North, some of the problems that we were encountering. And you know, I -- I -- I can't speak to probabilities that people were assigning. I -- I think that the South Koreans certainly were well-informed by the president about -- at -- at that luncheon, and in his one-on-one in the Oval about the growing skepticism about the direction that Kim was bringing.
    QUESTION: (inaudible) There was a disconnect as to what they are -- they -- what they were perceiving, and what this administration was perceiving before that...
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I -- I think -- I think there was hopefulness on the part of the South Koreans, as well as on the part of the United States -- hopefulness on the part of the president that, in fact, this summit would take place, and that it would be a success. For it to be a success, denuclearization has to be the -- the end state. It has to be the outcome that -- that we would reach through the course of -- of that dialogue, and -- and the process that would follow.
    QUESTION: (inaudible) aspect of this?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, I can only say that that -- that was one of several pretty odd judgment calls on the part of North Korean officials, to attack the vice president. And it wasn't the only odd judgment call that was reflected in that letter. There was the talk about a nuclear -- nuclear showdown.
    QUESTION: (inaudible) harmful in this context, it would appear.
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I -- I -- it wasn't helpful, I can tell you that. Yeah.
    Yes, ma'am?
    QUESTION: Thank you so much. Just two quick clarifications and a question. Like, you said you've been in contact with the Japanese and South Koreans this morning. Does that mean that the president himself directly called President Moon and Prime Minister Abe this morning?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: No, we -- we had dialogue just -- just below the president's level.
    Sir?
    QUESTION: I'm sorry...
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Let's stick to one each, just so I can get to more of you, if you don't mind.
    Yeah?
    QUESTION: Thanks, (inaudible). With regard to the maximum pressure campaign, are there plans to impose additional sanctions on North Korea in the next few weeks, now this comes up (ph)?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Well, you know, our -- our -- our Treasury Department is constantly evaluating intelligence as it comes in to look for targets, that is, people who are -- and -- and companies and entities and ships that are violating U.S. law, as well as the U.N. Security Council resolutions. So that is a -- that is a constant process. It's like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. It starts peeling as soon as you finish, and so you have to keep a -- a new coat of paint going just to maintain a certain level of pressure. And the goal here is to achieve maximum pressure. We're still short of that.
    Sir?
    QUESTION: Thanks, (inaudible). I want to ask you, based upon what the president put out in that letter, and also, based upon what the president said earlier, he's clearly open to the idea of meeting in the future with the North Korean leader. But going forward, from the administration's perspective, why believe anything that the North Koreans have to say?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: In part, we -- the president wants to give every opportunity to a peaceful resolution of this -- of this crisis. The president wants to see North Korea fulfill its potential, as a -- as an -- as a member of the community of nations, as a nation filled with resourceful, smart people who have suffered enormously under that ideology, and under that system. The president wants to give every opportunity for the right outcome by North Korea, by its people, and by the United States and our allies.
    And so the president, in -- in -- has been willing to keep the door open from the beginning to a dialogue process, and he -- he continues to do so.
    Sir?
    QUESTION: Why -- why believe them? It's a pretty simple, basic question. Why -- why trust them? Why believe them? It's really basic.
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: It's -- they don't make it easy, I agree.
    So, sir?
    (LAUGHTER)
    QUESTION: The differences in the administration between those who believe that diplomacy can work, and the hardliners who believe that, as we were just discussing, that the North Koreans cannot be trusted. There have been deals before. They've broken every single deal, why bother?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: For the reason I just stated. President Trump wants to see this resolved. He has made a pledge to the American people to keep us safe from nuclear threat that -- that has been growing and gathering for, now, three decades in the hands of a -- of a rogue regime.
    And so President Trump is -- is willing to pursue diplomacy as far as it can possibly be pursued.
    Sir? Behind.
    QUESTION: So in his letter, President Trump called the dialogue between him and Chairman Kim "the only dialogue that matters." Normally, a summit like this would follow extensive preparations and -- and talks at the ministerial (ph) level and -- and so on, up and up and up until getting to the point that the two heads of state would meet.
    And, obviously, the president responded to Chairman Kim's invitation. But that having not panned out, is there any effort or desire on the part of the administration to, maybe, do this the way that other summits like this would normally be done? Start at the bottom and -- and work up to a head of state meeting as opposed to giving them the worry of that right away?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Yeah. Well, it -- the -- the format you just explained hasn't resulted in -- in denuclearization of North Korea despite numerous agreements that have been made, declaring that -- that very end state, agreed by both sides.
    That said, there has been work going on. And -- and some of the work to prepare for the summit was -- was halted because we simply couldn't get them to pick up the phone at a certain point.
    And so there -- the radio silence precluded the opportunity to do some of that preparation work in advance of the two sitting down.
    (CROSSTALK)
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Last -- last question.
    Mary (ph)?
    QUESTION: Thank you, (inaudible). Could we go back for a second? I -- I didn't hear your response to Mark's (ph) question about Ambassador Bolton and how his past comments played a role in this.
    That's (ph) something that the North Koreans have charged. But also, could we clarify what you said before? Joe Hagin and other senior officials went to Singapore last week, and the North Koreans never showed up. They simply stood him up, he said.
    Why didn't the United States cancel the summit at that point?
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Yeah. Well, I -- I think that we -- we've been willing to give the North Koreans every opportunity within reason to consummate this -- this meeting between the two leaders.
    And it was one of -- one of several cuts that -- that led to the president's decision this morning. (inaudible) that -- that letter. Yeah. Thanks very much.
    (CROSSTALK)
    QUESTION: What about the Americans who are still (ph) in North Korea, (inaudible)?
    MODERATOR: We'll take questions from anybody -- no other questions (inaudible) today.
    QUESTION: (inaudible), could we please have a word on the American journalists who are still in North Korea?
    QUESTION: Can -- can you...
    QUESTION: The journalists who (inaudible), construction (ph) site (ph).
    QUESTION: (inaudible)? Are -- are we going to get the journalists...
    QUESTION: Ben Tracy cited that...
    SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: You guys have more -- more info than I do on -- on the reporters who are (ph) on (ph) the (ph) ground (ph), here. I'm just looking at some of the reports.
    QUESTION: Thank you.