WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Thursday (May 24) called off his planned June summit with Kim Jong Un, blaming "open hostility" from the North Korean regime and warning Pyongyang against committing any "foolish or reckless acts."
In a letter to Kim, Trump announced he would not go ahead with the high-stakes meeting set for Jun 12 in Singapore, following what the White House called a "trail of broken promises" by the North.
Just before Trump announced the cancellation of the talks, North Korea declared it had "completely" dismantled its nuclear test site, in a carefully choreographed move portrayed by the isolated regime as a goodwill gesture ahead of the summit.
But the chances of success for the unprecedented face-to-face had recently been thrown into doubt.
Trump's announcement, in which he vowed to pursue Washington's campaign of "maximum pressure" through sanctions, came a day after Pyongyang hardened its rhetoric by attacking Vice President Mike Pence as "ignorant and stupid."
"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," read Trump's letter to Kim, which was dictated word for word by the US leader, according to a senior White House official.
"The world, and North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth. This missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history," he said.
The Pentagon indicated it was braced to respond to possible "provocative actions" on Pyongyang's part.
But the Republican president also held out hope that a meeting with Kim could still take place, saying: "It's possible that the existing summit could take place, or a summit at some later date. Nobody should be anxious. We have to get it right."
"If and when Kim Jong Un chooses to engage in constructive dialogue and actions, I am waiting," he added.
Foreign leaders reacted with dismay to the summit collapse, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressing "deep regret" and summoning top security aides for emergency talks.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the parties to keep talking, as did host Singapore, while Russia's President Vladimir Putin held out hope that dialogue would resume and the talks would eventually take place.
'PROMISE WAS BROKEN'
Politically, Trump had invested heavily in the success of the planned summit. Privately, most US officials, as well as outside observers, believed it would go ahead despite the recent uptick in tensions.
But as the date drew nearer, the gulf in expectations between the two sides became apparent.
Washington has made it clear it wants to see the "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation" of the North.
But Pyongyang has vowed it will never give up its nuclear deterrence until it feels safe from what it terms US aggression.
Meanwhile, a senior White House official said Pyongyang had demonstrated a "profound lack of good faith" in the run-up to the summit - including standing up the White House's deputy chief of staff, who had travelled to Singapore for preparatory talks.
"They waited and they waited. The North Koreans never showed up. The North Koreans did not tell us anything - they simply stood us up," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The White House viewed North Korea's objection to a routine US-South Korean joint military exercise - and its recent cancellation of a meeting with the South Koreans - as a breach of its commitments leading up to the summit.
It also was unhappy about the North's failure to allow international observers to verify the dismantling of its Punggye-ri test site, the staging ground for all six of its nuclear tests which was buried inside a mountain near the border with China.
"That promise was broken," the White House official said.
While a small group of journalists invited to the site described a series of explosions throughout the day, the official stressed that "we will not have forensic evidence that much was accomplished."
"We certainly hope that it's the case but really don't know."
'ROCKING AND READY'
Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia programme at the Wilson Centre think tank, warned of the knock-on effects cancelling the meeting could have.
"South Korea is also likely to be angered, and the Alliance will take a hit. Expect Seoul to try to continue engagements with Pyongyang, even if it widens a rift with Washington," Denmark wrote on Twitter.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - who twice travelled to Pyongyang to lay the groundwork for the summit - said it was scrapped because a "successful outcome" did not seem possible.
He reiterated however that he had reached "a real understanding" with Kim, and that the American team had been "rocking and ready and prepared for this meeting."
But Democratic congressional leader Nancy Pelosi was scathing towards Trump's administration - blaming a lack of preparation for the summit collapse and judging Kim to be the "big winner."
"It's clear he didn't know what he was getting into," she said of Trump. "And now he's walking away from it in this very chummy, palsy-walsy letter to Kim Jong Un."