Signs North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump Are Just Playing Mind Games While Nuclear War Looms

Donald Trump seemed determined to annihilate the threat of nuclear fallout when he agreed to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in June 2018. Then, he canceled the meeting — but decided a week later he’d made a mistake.

Nothing leading up to the summit promised any sort of productive diplomacy — and some speculated that’s what both world leaders were hoping for.

Here are all the hangups both the U.S. and North Korea encountered while trying to plan the summit, why Trump withdrew (page 8), and why he changed his mind — again (page 10).

They both could walk away disappointed

Collage featuring Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

What will the summit accomplish? | Saul Loeb/Korea Summit Press Pool/AFP/Getty Images

  • Donald Trump wants denuclearization; Kim Jong Un probably doesn’t.

It’s unusual for Kim to agree to such a meeting, though it wouldn’t be the first time North Korea has extended an invitation to the U.S. Most experts agreed Trump probably wouldn’t be able to persuade the dictator to give up his nuclear weapons for good.

Next: Planning for a summit probably shouldn’t have been this complicated.

They had a hard time deciding how many meals to serve during the summit

This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korean leader Kim.

Event planning can be a total nightmare. | STR/AFP/Getty Images

  • It took excessive effort to agree on seemingly minute logistics.

A summit couldn’t have happened at all without intense planning. But the details don’t seem to match up with the “bigger picture” both sides are trying to focus on. Officials had to meet to decide things, such as how many meals to serve, how many breaks to take, and which leader would sit where, according to The New York Times.

Next: North Korea couldn’t quite get on the same page.

North Korea stopped answering U.S. phone calls

Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol-Ju at a meeting.

North Korean officials stopped responding to inquiries regarding the summit. | AFP/Getty Images

  • They were a no-show at an important prep meeting.

It takes a lot of strategic planning to bring two world leaders like Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump together for an official summit. A team from each country was supposed to meet to go over logistics, but North Korea’s members never showed, The Guardian reports.

Next: Trump finally had enough.

Just weeks before the scheduled meeting, Trump canceled

Donald Trump frowning while sitting down.

Donald Trump was apparently the first to cancel the meeting. | Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

  • The officials and journalists preparing for the summit didn’t see that coming.

A few weeks before the meeting was scheduled to take place, Trump wrote a letter to North Korea formally canceling the event. The president gave a reason for “withdrawing” from the summit, but there could be a dozen reasons he opted out.

Next: Why did he really cancel?

He gave a questionable ‘reason’ for saying ‘no thanks’

Donald Trump at a press conference.

Did Donald Trump ruin any chances of the summit actually happening? | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

  • The president called the prospective meeting “inappropriate.”

The president wrote: “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.”

Some sources speculated that Trump may have deliberately “sabotaged” the summit. Regardless, it’s possible it wouldn’t have happened even if he’d upheld his commitment.

Next: Accomplishing his father’s goals

A generational goal?

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L) and South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) pose for photographs Inter-Korean Summit 2018

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in | Korea Summit Press Pool/Getty Images

  • Three generations of Kims have wanted to meet with a U.S. president. 

Jean H. Lee, a North Korea expert, speculates that perhaps meeting with a U.S. president is a major milestone for the Kims. Both Kim Jong Un’s father and grandfather failed to make it happen. “To have a summit with a US President is something that many countries aspire to,” Lee told CNN. “So for North Korea, for a tiny country which is technically still at war with the US, for their leader to sit down with a president is huge deal.” Lee went on to say that Kim’s father and grandfather would be proud to see him establishing North Korea’s legitimacy.

Next: A shaky hold

Holding it all together

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a photo session with the participants in the 8th Congress of the Korean Children's Union in Pyongyang

Kim poses with North Korean children | STR/AFP/Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Kim regime is troubled. From assassinations to defectors, the government in North Korea seems to face upheaval around the corner. If Kim were to meet with the U.S. — and possibly even get some sanctions removed — it would lend him credibility in his own regime.

Next: Did Trump want to be the first one to change the plan?

Kim might have canceled anyway …

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un at a press conference.

Maybe Kim Jong Un changed his tune. | Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

  • Trump may have wanted to cancel before the dictator got the chance.

Pusan National University political science professor Robert Kelly speculated that Trump canceled before Kim could. “The president puts his ego above traditional strategic and national interest calculation,” Kelly told Time. “He doesn’t want to be the bride left at the altar.”

Next: Is it still happening — or not?

… But he claimed he was still open to meeting

A collage featuring Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

North Korea still wants the summit to happen. | Brendan Smialowski, KNCA/AFP/Getty Images

  • North Korea said in a statement it would still like to make a meeting happen.

Trump also couldn’t seem to decide whether he actually wanted the meeting to happen — even though he was the one who originally canceled. Shortly after formally withdrawing from the summit, he said, “They very much want to do it; we’d like to do it.”

Next: It took Trump a week to change his mind — again.

Trump then proceeded to ‘un-cancel’

Donald Trump speaking behind a podium.

It seems the summit is still green-lit. | Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

  • The president said he and his administration were “over” the original issues.

On June 1, a week after canceling the meeting, Trump reinstated the summit. “We’re over that, totally over that, and now we’re going to deal and we’re going to really start a process,” he said, referring to his original reason for withdrawing.

Next: Positive signs

Signs of commitment?

Donald Trump speaks at a rally.

Can he make the deal? | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Though the opportunity for a cancellation exists, the U.S. is already making moves to be sure everything is prepared. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced there is a White House “advance team” already on the ground in Singapore, preparing for the summit. This team features a variety of staff, including military and medical, and will be there until the summit occurs. Perhaps it’s a sign that Trump is serious.

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Additional reporting by John Wolfe