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SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said Friday that it's still willing to sit down for talks with the United States "at any time, at any format" just hours after President Donald Trump abruptly canceled his planned summit with the North's leader Kim Jong Un.
The statement by Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, a longtime nuclear negotiator and senior diplomat, said the North is "willing to give the U.S. time and opportunities" to reconsider talks that had been set for June 12 in Singapore is the latest whiplash development in what had been seen as a rare opportunity to address what might be the world's most dangerous standoff. Focus will now swing back to how Trump will respond to the North's seemingly conciliatory gesture.
A scrapping of diplomacy could see a return to the torrent of weapons tests — and the fears of war they created — that North Korea unleashed last year as it sought to put the finishing touches on a nuclear-armed missile program meant to target the entire U.S. mainland. Since January, Kim has taken a radically softer approach to foreign affairs, sending his sister to the Olympics in South Korea, meeting with his South Korean counterpart on their shared border and exploding parts of his nuclear testing site Thursday in a sign of good faith.
Earlier comments by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, seen as the driving force behind the summit, suggested that Seoul, a top U.S. ally and host to 28,500 U.S. troops, was blindsided by Trump's cancellation. Moon said he was "very perplexed" at Trump's announcement that he was canceling the summit because of North Korea's "tremendous anger and open hostility." Moon urged direct talks between Trump and Kim.
Many expected a belligerent North Korean response to Trump's comments, but Kim, the North Korean vice foreign minister, said Pyongyang's "objective and resolve to do our best for the sake of peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and all humankind remain unchanged." Kim called Trump's decision "unexpected" and "very regrettable," and said the cancellation of the talks shows "how grave the status of historically deep-rooted hostile North Korea-U.S. relations is and how urgently a summit should be realized to improve ties."
While the statement may keep the possibility of a summit alive, there were also hints in North Korea's statement that Pyongyang was willing to walk away.
Kim said the United States is at fault for what Trump described as North Korea's "hostility," saying that Pyongyang was responding to "excessive" U.S. comments pressuring the country to "unilaterally discard" its nuclear weapons ahead of the summit.
Kim said North Korea had "highly rated" Trump's efforts to set up a summit between the countries, something previous U.S. presidents were unwilling to do. But Trump's move to cancel the summit has forced the North to "rethink whether the efforts we have so far put in and the new path we have taken is the right choice."
AP writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.