WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump sounded a sharply more optimistic tone Friday on North Korea, saying the two countries had resumed talking and a June 12 summit could still take place, even though he called it off only a day earlier.
The jarring turn of events came after North Korea said early Friday that it remained willing to meet with Mr. Trump despite his decision to scrap plans for the historic meeting in Singapore with leader Kim Jong Un.
“Very good news to receive the warm and productive statement from North Korea,” Mr. Trump said in a Twitter message. “We will soon see where it will lead, hopefully to long and enduring prosperity and peace. Only time (and talent) will tell!”
Late Friday, Mr. Trump added: “We are having very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th., and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date.”
Friday’s tweets came with suggestions from a number of aides and administration officials that momentum toward a historic meeting had resumed. The comments represented a complete reversal in tenor from a day earlier, when a senior White House official detailing the rationale for the summit’s cancellation complained about North Korea and its “trail of broken promises that gave the United States pause.”
The turnaround in Washington followed a parallel shift in Pyongyang. After several days of acrimony and threats of war, a North Korean official on Friday responded to Mr. Trump’s cancellation of the summit by saying: “We express our willingness to sit down face-to-face with the U.S. and resolve issues anytime and in any format.”
At the same time, U.S. officials said communications between the U.S. and North Koreans had resumed after a lapse they blamed on North Korea.
“We were not receiving the right signals previously, so hopefully that will change as we move forward,” White House National Security Council spokesman Robert Palladino said. “Before a summit proceeds, it’s important that North Korea commit to the quick denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. When North Korea is prepared to act in good faith, we will be ready.”
The White House has vacillated in recent days about whether the two countries were holding preparatory talks in advance of the summit. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump, while meeting with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, suggested the two sides were talking.
“We are talking,” he said then. “Whether or not it [a summit] happens, you’ll be knowing pretty soon. But we’re talking right now.”
On Thursday, after Mr. Trump canceled the summit, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the Americans and North Koreans hadn’t been talking.
“We have endeavored to…put preparation teams together to begin to work to prepare for the summit,” he testified. “And we had received no response to our inquiries from them.”
The summit’s rapidly shifting fortunes and the roller-coaster Kim-Trump exchanges have better defined the difficult issues separating the two sides, and highlighted the geopolitical complexities involved.
A U.S. official said late Friday the administration was still seriously considering imposing dozens of sanctions on North Korea early next week in response to Pyongyang’s recent aggressive rhetoric, a tactic to maintain maximum pressure on the country to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
By calling for “quick denuclearization,” the National Security Council may have struck the most sensitive nerve in Pyongyang, where officials over the past week have chafed at U.S. demands for what they see as unilateral disarmament. North Koreans also have complained about the joint U.S. and South Korean air drill known as Max Thunder.
North Korea appeared set on sending the message that it wouldn’t consider parting with its nuclear programs without major concessions on the part of Washington, analysts said, and that U.S. military assets carrying nuclear weapons might also need to be part of the discussion.
North Korea has proposed denuclearization as a longer-term, phased process, an idea that has come up during Mr. Kim’s two recent meetings with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Those visits have irritated Mr. Trump, who blamed the darkening tone of talks on Mr. Kim’s second visit to China earlier this month.
Before Mr. Trump scrapped the June summit meeting in Singapore, he accused China in a tweet this week of relaxing its sanctions implementation, saying the frontier between China and North Korea had become “much more porous” and urging Beijing to be “strong & tight” on sanctions.
Beijing has said it enforces United Nations sanctions, and Chinese traders near the North Korean border say they haven’t seen signs of relaxed enforcement in recent weeks.
Some experts have said Pyongyang wanted a meeting with Mr. Trump in which the primary topics would be arms control and the North’s status as a responsible nuclear state.
North Korea has long sought de facto recognition as a nuclear state, a prospect the U.S. has been unwilling to entertain.
The summit’s up-and-down prospects have tested the U.S.-South Korean relationship, in particular the ties between Messrs. Trump and Moon. Mr. Moon, an advocate of closer ties with the North, visited Mr. Trump at the White House on Tuesday, discussing what then was a planned summit.
“We regard it as fortunate that the embers of the U.S.-North Korea summit have not been snuffed out and crackle once more,” a spokesman for the presidential Blue House in Seoul said Saturday. “We will carefully watch future developments.”
Seoul was blindsided and disappointed by Mr. Trump’s withdrawal early Thursday, and Mr. Moon said he was “perplexed.” South Korea’s presidential national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, said Friday that Seoul was trying to enable direct communication between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea.
With discussions again taking place, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Mr. Trump would like to revive the summit, if he is assured it would be fruitful.
“As the president said this morning, certainly we would like to have a meeting,” Ms. Sanders said. “But the president is not just looking to have a meeting. He’s not looking for just a cheap political stunt. He wants to get something that is long-lasting and actual real solutions.”
Asked if the summit could still happen on June 12, she said: “It’s certainly a possibility.”
Asked whether a White House advance team was still planning to travel to Singapore to prepare for a possible summit, she said: “We’ll see. We still have a few hours before that takes place.”
Mr. Trump told reporters earlier Friday dialogue with North Korea was under way.
“We are talking to them now,” he said.
Asked whether North Korea was playing games, Mr. Trump replied, “Everybody plays games.”
—Michael R. Gordon
and Jonathan Cheng in Hong Kong contributed to this article.
Write to Peter Nicholas at email@example.com