Trump backs off from his demand that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, completely abandon his arsenal without any reciprocal American concessions. Trump’s statement seemed less a policy shift than an effort to preserve his date with Mr. Kim and shows he’s willing to give up what has been his bedrock position in dealing with the North while still groping for a strategy. Afraid of not having a date for the prom, Trump backpeddled: “There’s a very substantial chance that it won’t work out, and that’s O.K.,” Mr. Trump told reporters, as Mr. Moon listened. “That doesn’t mean it won’t work over a period of time. But it may not work out for June 12.” “There are certain conditions we want to happen,” he added. “I think we’ll get those conditions. And if we don’t, we won’t have the meeting.” If Trump keeps backing off, there won’t be any conditions left to hinder the meeting.
Throwing shade on China, Trump said he detected a change in Mr. Kim after he met China’s president this month in Dalian. Trump asked the S. Korean leader, Moon, whether he believed that Mr. Xi was influencing Mr. Kim. Mr. Moon deflected the question. “The person who is in charge is President Trump,” Mr. Moon said. “I have every confidence that he will be able to make a historic turnaround in this sense.”
North Korea objected particularly to John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s new national security adviser, who said recently he viewed Libya as a template for negotiating the denuclearization of North Korea. Trump threw Bolton under the bus, disavowing Mr. Bolton’s remarks, acknowledging that Libya’s voluntary disarmament in 2003 did nothing to protect its leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, from being killed by his own people (with the help of the rest of the world) less than a decade later in the upheavals that swept the Arab world. On Tuesday, Trump went out of his way to guarantee Mr. Kim’s safety. “He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich,” but it was not clear how the United States would protect Mr. Kim from a domestic uprising like the one that convulsed Libya.
Still, South Korean officials said Mr. Moon delivered an essentially upbeat message to Trump, continuing to blow smoke up his skirt. The idea of packing up North Korea’s sprawling nuclear program and flying it out of the country on American military transport planes was always far-fetched.