Washington: President Donald Trump expressed pessimism about whether the summit with North Korea’s leader would take place, even as US officials continue to press ahead with plans for a historic meeting to be held on 12 June.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in flew to Washington for the day on Tuesday amid growing uncertainty about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s goals for the summit after his regime made remarks critical of Trump’s vision of “total denuclearization."

Moon and Trump offered few public remarks, but what little they did say suggested the odds of a breakdown are rising.

“There’s a chance, a very substantial chance, it won’t work out," Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with Moon. “I don’t want to waste a lot of time and I’m sure he doesn’t want to waste a lot of time. So there’s a very substantial chance it won’t work out and that’s OK. That doesn’t mean it won’t work out over a period of time."

While the pace of diplomacy leading to the planned June summit has been fast, analysts who study Kim’s regime predicted that relations would get increasingly tested in the days and weeks leading up to what would be the first ever meeting between a North Korean leader and a sitting American president.

That was especially true after US National Security Adviser John Bolton, spelling out the administration’s goals, said North Korea could follow a “Libya model" of arms control. While arms control advocates cite Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s 2011 decision to give up his weapons of mass destruction program in exchange for an easing of sanctions as a success, he’s better remembered for the public beating and execution he suffered at the hands of rebels two years later.

Definition gap

The biggest sticking point between Pyongyang and Washington appears to be over the definition of denuclearization. American officials have repeatedly said they expect North Korea to accept “complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament," while Pyongyang is seeking a phased process that could include a reduced American military presence in the region.

Denuclearization “all in one would be a lot better" than in phases, Trump said Tuesday.Moon continued to express optimism during the Oval Office meeting.

“I am very much aware there are many skeptical views" in the US about whether the summit will be successful, Moon said through an interpreter. “I have every confidence that President Trump will be able to achieve a historic feat."

Trump said that the US is prepared to guarantee Kim’s safety as part of a grand bargain. If they reach an accord, Kim “will be very proud" of what he did for North Korea 25 years in the future, Trump said.

“South Korea, China and Japan—and I’ve spoken to all three—they will be willing to help and I believe invest very, very large sums of money into making North Korea great," said Trump. “His country will be rich."

Investment offer

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo echoed that idea in a briefing to reporters on Tuesday, saying, “I do have a real sense that he would find American investment, American technology, American know-how a real value to his people and it’s something that he and I had a chance to speak about generally."

It’s not clear Kim is interested in making his country “rich," though he likely does want an easing of UN sanctions tightened last year amid North Korea’s rapid-fire testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Kim’s government had already pushed back on earlier comments by Pompeo about the possibility of US trade and infrastructure investment.

“The US is trumpeting as if it would offer economic compensation and benefit in case we abandon nukes," North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, said last week. “But we have never had any expectation of US support in carrying out our economic construction and will not at all make such a deal in future, either."

Pompeo, who has met Kim twice in recent months, was asked to place odds on the likelihood that the summit will go on as planned. “I’m not a betting man," Pompeo said. “I wouldn’t care to predict whether it will happen, only to predict that we’ll be ready if it does."