Fresh dangers emanate from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano

Molten lava from Hawaii’s erupting Kilauea volcano is pouring into ocean water, forming a potentially fatal toxic white cloud. Experts have warned that the eruption could be entering its most dangerous phase yet.

Hawaii volcano eruption (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. C. Hong)

Hawaii authorities on Monday warned the public to steer clear of the toxic white cloud seen rising out of the ocean.

The plumes of acid and fine shards of glass are the latest of several mounting dangers caused by Kilauea volcano, which first erupted more than two weeks ago and has gone to destroy at least 44 homes in Hawaii’s Puna district and forced some 2,000 people to evacuate their homes.

The eruption on Hawaii’s Big Island is entering its most violent phase yet, according to experts, in which rich, orange, molten rock is pouring out of fissures in the ground, travelling faster and at higher temperatures than the magma that first spilled out.

Scientists say that that’s because the magma was left over from a 1955 eruption, and had been stored in the ground for the past six decades.

“We’ve seen Phase 1,” said Carolyn Pearcheta, an operational geologist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. “We’ve seen the clearing out of the system. We call that the ‘throat-clearing’ phase.”

Read more: Hawaii volcano eruption: Lava hits ocean as first serious injury reported

Deadly clouds

The clouds of so-called “laze” — a combination of “lava” and “haze” — formed as steams of hot lava and fine volcanic glass specks pour into the ocean and mix with the seawater.

Geologists warned that the toxic cloud could extend as far as 15 miles (24 km) along the coast and offshore.

While getting hit by the cloud may feel like being sprinkled with glitter, even a small wisp of the fumes can cause eye and respiratory irritation, and could even be fatal.

“If you’re feeling stinging on your skin, go inside,” US Geological Survey scientist Wendy Stovall said.

Read more: Hawaii: More volcanic explosions expected Big Island

In 2000, a similar cloud caused by lava reaching the Hawaii coast killed two people.

The cloud can also cause acid rain with corrosive properties equivalent to diluted battery acid, according to the Geological Survey.

Earlier on Monday, a small eruption at the Kilauea summit produced an ash plume that reached about 7,000 feet (2,134 meters). Meanwhile, lava and molten rock continued to gush out of large cracks in the ground, creating rivers of lava that bisected forests and farms as they rushed towards the coast.

Read more: Our Beautiful Planet: Nature’s tenacity after volcano eruptions

Volcano eruption in Hawaii (picture-alliance/ZUMA Wire/USGS)Photos released by the US Geological Survey show masses of molten lava flowing into the ocean

Lava rushing towards geothermal power plant

On Monday, lava spewing out of the Kilauea volcano flowed towards a geothermal power plant; workers scrambled to shut it down and prevent an uncontrollable release of more toxic gases into the air.

Staff at the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) plant rushed to shut down three wells which tap into extremely hot water and steam some 6,000 to 8,000 feet underground to power turbines and produce electricity.

Read more: Why risk living on a volcano like Kilauea?

The plant, which provided around a quarter of all power to the Big Island, was closed shortly after eruption began earlier this month, and some 60,000 gallons (227,124 liters) of flammable pentane used in the turbines had already been relocated.

Watch video01:11

Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupts, forcing evacuations

Tourism under threat

Scientists said they have no way of knowing how long the eruption is going to last. Ige said the state was monitoring volcano activity and working to keep people safe. “Like typical eruptions and lava flows, it’s really allowing Madam Pele to run its course,” he said, referring to the Hawaiian goddess of fire.

Hawaii tourism officials have stressed that most of the Big Island remains unaffected by the Kilauea volcano and is still open for business.

However, tourism authorities also admitted that summer bookings on Big Island had fallen by around 50 percent since the volcano first erupted. The closure of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park alone could cause up to $222 million (€189 million) in lost revenue, with some 2,000 jobs indirectly impacted.

According to the Hawaii Visitors Bureau, tourism is by far the biggest employer on the Big Island, accounting for over 30 percent of private sector jobs.

Watch video03:53

Lava tour guide John Tarson in Hawaii speaking after the Kilauea volcano eruption

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Who’s to blame for the hiccup in North Korea talks? South Koreans say Bolton.

National security adviser John Bolton listens as President Trump talks during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in April. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
May 21 at 1:53 PM

President Trump is blaming Kim Jong Un for changing the scope of their summit talks planned for next month and will doubtless air his frustrations when he meets with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Washington on Tuesday.

But in South Korea, many say the blame for the sudden problems in the diplomatic process lies squarely at the feet of someone else: John Bolton.

“There are several land mines on the way to the summit between North Korea and the U.S.,” said Chung Dong-young, who served as unification minister during the last progressive administration and is now a lawmaker. “One of those land mines just exploded: John Bolton,” Chung told YTN Radio.

Woo Sang-ho, a lawmaker in Moon’s ruling Democratic Party, agreed. “Bolton’s preposterous ‘Libya solution’ is a red light in North Korea’s summit talks with the U.S. and South Korea,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Officials now in senior positions in the Moon administration know the current American national security adviser’s background all too well. Many served under pro-engagement president Roh Moo-hyun, at a time when Bolton was a strong proponent inside the George W. Bush administration of the invasion of Iraq and of regime change in North Korea.

“I think a lot of people who were involved with the Roh administration are concerned about Bolton because he was such a neoconservative at the time, and it seems that he hasn’t changed,” said Lee Geun, a professor of political science at Seoul National University. “People are worried that he’s going to interfere and botch the process,” Lee said.

Seven of Bolton’s hawkish moments

Here are some of the instances that earned President Trump’s pick for national security adviser, John Bolton, a hawkish reputation. 

A spokesman for Bolton, now Trump’s national security adviser, could not immediately be reached for comment.

After meetings with top officials here last week, one American analyst remarked — only half in jest — that the South Koreans detested Bolton as much as the North Koreans.

Moon’s visit to Washington on Tuesday was scheduled in the wake of his own feel-good summit with Kim at the end of April and was intended to help Trump prepare for his summit with the North Korean leader, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.

Trump had repeatedly said the talks were shaping up well, even calling Kim “nice” for releasing three American prisoners held for more than a year. Until last week, that is, when North Korea made clear it had no interest in “unilateral nuclear abandonment” and would “reconsider” proceeding with the summit if that were the condition.

This followed Bolton’s appearance on the Sunday shows May 13 to tout the “Libya model” whereby Moammar Gaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program in 2003 in return for sanctions relief. The North Korean regime, however, remembers what happened afterward: Gaddafi was overthrown and brutally killed by his opponents.

This repeated mention of Libya caused Kim Gye Gwan, North Korea’s vice foreign minister and a figure well known to American officials thanks to his role in 2005 denuclearization talks, to denounce Bolton. He said North Korea could “not hide a feeling of repugnance toward” Bolton, a man the regime had previously derided as “human scum” and a “bloodsucker.”

The Chosun Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper based in Japan, doubled down on the criticism. The “super-hard-line” Bolton “has no clear ideology or theory,” the paper wrote. “Instead, he is a simple follower of simple thinking, racism and the narrow-minded America First policy.”

Lee Jong-seok, who served as South Korea’s unification minister in the later years of the Roh administration, said the two sides seized on different lessons from Libya. Bolton looked at it as a successful case of denuclearizing a rogue regime, while North Korea focused on the dictator’s grisly end.

“Bolton created a mess by bringing up the ‘Libya model,’ which is deeply dreaded by Pyongyang,” Lee said. He added that he considers Kim Gye Gwan’s response “low-key” in the circumstances.

“Things would have gotten out of hand had it not been for the immediate follow-up from Trump himself,” Lee said.

Trump contradicted Bolton, saying he was not thinking of a Libya model — “we decimated that country” — but an outcome where Kim remained in power and his economy flourished under a denuclearization deal.

Others play down concerns about Bolton, noting that he is in frequent contact with his South Korean counterpart.

“I do not worry about Bolton,” said Moon Chung-in, a usually outspoken adviser to the South Korean president. “He will follow President Trump’s lead.”

The biggest problem comes, experts here say, from Trump’s fundamental misunderstanding of North Korea’s interests.

The regime in Pyongyang has never said it was prepared to unilaterally give up its nuclear program but has instead repeatedly made it clear this would have to be part of a “phased and synchronous” process that would involve rewards for North Korea along the way.

“Kim Jong Un coming out to talks is not an act of one-way surrender, but a movement to adjust mutual interests,” said Lee Jong-seok, now at the pro-engagement Sejong Institute outside Seoul. “It’s not that North Korea rejects complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, but rather they need a tangible promise from Washington in return.”

While some here think the Trump administration does not adequately understand North Korea’s negotiating tactics, others think Trump is practicing his own “art of the deal.”

Bolton’s posturing looks like a ploy to Nam Sung-wook, a senior intelligence official under a conservative government who is now professor of North Korean studies at Korea University.

“Trump would have been well aware of Bolton’s hawkish stance when hiring him, and Bolton is now effectively playing the role of ‘bad cop,’” Nam said. “I don’t think the Libya model was part of Washington’s strategy from the beginning, but was just brought up to raise the stakes as much as possible before the summit. That’s Trump’s negotiation strategy.”

Either way, many in South Korea are worried about what happens if the Singapore summit fails to meet expectations — or if it produces a denuclearization deal that North Korea fails to honor.

Bolton is widely perceived to have a penchant for military action, as illustrated in a column he wrote for the Wall Street Journal in February laying out the legal arguments for strikes on North Korea.

“In South Korea, many people, regardless of their political orientation, are not fond of John Bolton,” said one senior official close to Moon, asking for anonymity to discuss the sensitive relationship. “He seems to think the U.S. can fight another war on the Korean Peninsula, so from our perspective, as the people living on the Korean Peninsula, he is very dangerous.”

Gina Haspel becomes first woman to head CIA

President Trump praised Gina Haspel as she was sworn in as the new head of the CIA. She’s the first woman to head the agency, but her nomination was overshadowed by allegations she was involved in torture programs.

US President Donald Trump and CIA Director Gina Haspel (picture-alliance/AP Photo/E. Vucci)

Gina Haspel called for more agents to be deployed overseas as she was sworn in as director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on Monday.

US President Donald Trump, who nominated Haspel after tapping former CIA head Mike Pompeo for secretary of state, said that there was “no one in this country better qualified” for the job.

Haspel is the first woman to head the US intelligence agency, a distinction she said she was proud of.

“I would not be standing before you today if not for the remarkable courage and dedication displayed by generations of CIA women who challenged stereotypes, broke down barriers and opened doors for the rest of us,” Haspel told agency employees at the swearing-in.

Read moreCIA: The Gina Haspel controversy runs deeper than her appointment

New plan for CIA

Haspel, who has worked for the agency for 33 years, also took the opportunity to outline her vision for the CIA.

She told agency staffers that she wants to increase the CIA’s foreign language proficiency as well as strengthen the agency’s relationships with intelligence agencies in partner nations.

She also said she wants to deploy “more of our officers to the foreign field.”

CIA headquarters lobby in Langley, Virginia (Reuters/L. Downing)Haspel’s role in the CIA’s enhanced interrogation methods drew criticism

Torture program allegations

The US Senate confirmed Trump’s nomination of Haspel in a 54-45 vote last week.

Haspel’s long career as a CIA agent and a supervisor of the agency’s clandestine operations was praised by her supporters, who argued she was highly qualified to head the agency.

She faced a great deal of pushback, however, over her role in the agency’s use of brutal interrogation methods after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington.

Haspel was CIA station chief in Thailand in 2002 when the agency conducted harsh interrogations including waterboarding of suspected terrorists at secret “black site” facilities abroad. She’s also been criticized for her role in the destruction of interrogation videotapes.

In a letter sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Haspel appeared to reject the interrogation methods, writing: “With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”

Watch video09:18

The US under President Trump: Former CIA director Leon Panetta speaks to DW

rs/rc (AP, dpa)

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Hawaii volcano activity prompts new threats as man seriously injured from lava spatter

A man was seriously injured when he was hit with lava spatter while standing on his third-floor balcony — the first known injury related to Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano eruptions as new volcanic activity creates new threats in surrounding neighborhoods.

The homeowner on Noni Farms Road in Pahoa was hit with lava on the shin and taken to the hospital with serious injuries, Janet Snyder, spokeswoman for the Office of the Mayor, told Reuters.

hawaii volcano

“Fast-moving” lava flows threatened to cut off a major escape route for Puna residents.  (USGS Volcanoes)

“It hit him on the shin, and shattered everything from there down on his leg,” Snyder said, adding that the lava spatter could weigh “as much as a refrigerator.”

“And even small pieces of spatter can kill,” she said.


No other information about the man and his condition were released as of Sunday morning.

“Even small pieces of spatter can kill”

– Hawaii County spokeswoman Janet Snyder

Lava oozing out of the 22 fissures that opened since Kilauea volcano began erupting more than two weeks ago on the Big Island has wreaked havoc in surrounding neighborhoods. Officials on Sunday said there were reports of increased sulfur dioxide emissions as two lava flows entered the ocean.

Hawaii Volcano Map 2

At least 22 fissures have opened up since Kilauea volcano began erupting more than two weeks ago.  (Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency)

To add to the dangers, officials also warned residents of laze, which could cause serious health hazards.

“Laze is formed when hot lava hits the ocean sending hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles into the air,” Civil Defense Agency said. “Health hazards of laze include lung, eye and skin irritation. Be aware that the laze plume travels with the wind and can change direction without warning.”

Another four homes were destroyed Friday and Saturday, totaling to nearly four dozen structures demolished. A handful of people were trapped when a flow crossed a road Friday. Some had to be airlifted to safety.

“They shouldn’t be in that area,” said County Managing Director Wil Okabe.


“Fast-moving” flows on Saturday from fissure 20 in the volcano’s lower east rift zone ignited brush fires and incinerated everything in its path, Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency reported. Photos and videos from the scene showed a flow as smoke billowed from the edges where the bright red lava touched.

“County and state fire units are in the area, going door-to-door to make sure people are informed and check if they need assistance. Everyone needs to stay clear of this area,” officials said.

By Saturday night, the lava cut off Highway 137, a key escape route for residents in the area, at the 13-mile marker. Officials said they were monitoring a second flow early Sunday that was inching closer to the highway. Portions of Highway 137 and Highway 130 were closed.


hawaii volcano

The lava flows created brush fires. Lava from fissure 20 also entered the ocean.  (USGS Volcanoes)

The Big Island volcano released a small explosion at its summit just before midnight Friday, sending an ash cloud 10,000 feet into the sky. On Thursday, an “explosive” eruption emitted ash and rocks 30,000 feet into the sky.

Evacuation orders for two neighborhoods with nearly 2,000 people were given after a first fissure opened on May 3. Officials have been warning neighboring communities to be prepared to evacuate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Katherine Lam is a breaking and trending news digital producer for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @bykatherinelam


China Rejects U.S. Target for Narrowing Trade Gap

Beijing officials offer to step up purchases, but refuse to commit to Trump administration’s specific $200 billion cut from bilateral deficit

White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow, speaking at the White House on May 18, said China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by ‘at least $200 billion.’
White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow, speaking at the White House on May 18, said China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by ‘at least $200 billion.’ PHOTO: CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

A last-ditch effort by the Trump administration failed to get China to accept its demand for a $200 billion cut in the U.S. bilateral trade deficit, as Chinese officials resisted committing to any specific targets after two days of contentious negotiations.

The two days of deliberations in Washington ended with both sides arguing all night on Friday over what to say in a joint statement, people briefed on the matter said. The Chinese had come willing to step up purchases of U.S. merchandise as a measure to narrow China’s $375 billion trade advantage. But U.S. negotiators pushed the Chinese delegates to approve a specific target of $200 billion in additional Chinese purchases. The Chinese refused any such target in specific dollar amounts, and the matter is now in the hands of President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping, the people said.

The two sides released a joint statement shortly after the Chinese delegation was scheduled to return home, but it made no reference to the specific purchasing amounts that the U.S. had wanted.

“Both sides agreed on meaningful increases in United States agriculture and energy exports,” the statement said, adding that “the delegations also discussed expanding trade in manufactured goods and services. There was consensus on the need to create favorable conditions to increase trade in these areas.”

Chinese officials were wary of appearing to make concessions to Washington, and insisted the statement note that any Chinese purchases of U.S. goods and services are intended to “meet the growing consumption needs of the Chinese people.”

China on May 18 said it is dropping antidumping and antisubsidy investigations into imported U.S. sorghum.
China on May 18 said it is dropping antidumping and antisubsidy investigations into imported U.S. sorghum. PHOTO: SUE OGROCKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Beijing negotiators had come to Washington to settle a feud resulting from the Trump administration’s impatience with China’s large trade advantage. The U.S. side is also frustrated over allegations China pressures U.S. firms to transfer advanced technology and steals U.S. intellectual property. Washington has demanded China address these issues, under threat of U.S. tariffs on as much as $150 billion in Chinese goods. Should the U.S. make good on those threats, Beijing has promised to respond with its own tariffs on U.S. imports.

The procedural steps toward implementing the first tranche of threatened U.S. tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports could be completed by as early as next week, but in the joint statement, the two sides agreed to continue talking.

Souring the mood among Chinese officials were some U.S. media reports that China had accepted a U.S. request that Beijing slash its vast merchandise trade surplus by $200 billion, an amount that would cut by more than half the U.S. trade deficit with China. The Chinese side saw those reports as a last-minute effort by Trump administration officials to pressure Beijing into a public agreement that would meet U.S. objectives.

Early Friday, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, had told reporters that China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by “at least $200 billion.” Mr. Kudlow also said “they are meeting many of our demands. There is no deal yet, to be sure.”

While Beijing has been wary of committing to numerical targets of specific purchase amounts, it has in general offered to buy more U.S.-made autos, energy and agricultural products as a way to ease the trade tensions between the two nations that have rattled global financial and commodities markets.

The Chinese delegation was headed by Vice Premier Liu He, who impressed Washington officials, Mr. Kudlow said in a Friday interview with White House reporters, adding Mr. Liu is a “smart guy, a market guy.”

One of Washington’s central demands is that China reduce its merchandise trade surplus by at least $200 billion by the end of 2020, even though economists in both nations say the trade deficit is affected by investment and savings patterns in both nations—not trade policy. Beijing has rejected most U.S. demands in the past and has continued to hold firm.

The U.S. Agriculture Department recently asked agriculture companies to come up with a list of products whose production could be ramped up rapidly for export to China, a person following the talks said. At the same time, China put together a list of high-tech products that are barred by U.S. export controls for sale to China but are allowed by other nations.

Beijing argues that if the U.S. would ease the export controls on these items, it would purchase more from the U.S., the person briefed on the matters said. Even so, some U.S. officials believe, the additional Chinese purchases would only total $50 billion to $60 billion in the next year or two, far short of the U.S. goal.

One Chinese request is for a reprieve on China’s ZTE Corp. from crippling U.S. sanctionsover its trade with Iran and North Korea. Mr. Trump said early last week that he would work with Mr. Xi to get the telecommunications-equipment maker “back into business,” defending such a move as part of a trade deal the U.S. is negotiating with China.

However, “there is no firm agreement on ZTE as of yet,” a person familiar with the discussions said. U.S. lawmakers from both parties have criticized any effort to ease restrictions on the company, calling ZTE a security threat, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) tweeting on Saturday: “If we don’t wake up & start treating this as a national security issue, China is going to win again.”

Settling the trade fight is taking on a degree of urgency as the tensions start hurting businesses in both countries. U.S. goods, including sorghum, soybeans and cars, have faced growing hurdles when entering China, while a U.S. order banning American companies from selling components to ZTE not only threatens the survival of the company but also that of other state-owned Chinese companies.

Responding to Mr. Trump’s promise of a reprieve for ZTE, Beijing has made a number of conciliatory gestures. China’s antitrust regulators had delayed for months U.S. private-equity firm Bain Capital’s $18 billion deal for Toshiba Corp.’s memory-chip unit, but on Thursday, the Japanese firm said regulators had allowed the deal to proceed. Chinese regulators also promised this week to restart their review of U.S. chip maker Qualcomm Inc.’s bid for NXP Semiconductors NV.

China has also offered to hold back penalties on a variety of U.S. agricultural products it announced in early April as retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum exports. China is a top buyer of U.S. farm products. On Friday, China’s Commerce Ministry announced an end of its antidumping investigation into imported U.S. sorghum.

Write to Bob Davis at and Lingling Wei at

Trump promises North Korea ‘protections’ in a nuclear deal, distances himself from key advisor

Trump promises North Korea 'protections' in a nuclear deal, distances himself from key advisor
John Bolton, national security advisor, center, listens as President Trump comments on North Korea and China trade during a photo session Thursday in the Oval Office. (Pool / Getty Images)


President Trump disavowed a controversial remark made by his national security advisor, John Bolton, as he appeared increasingly eager Thursday to preserve a historic one-on-one meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for next month.

Bolton had spooked North Koreans recently by suggesting Pyongyang follow the path taken by Libya more than a decade ago, when that country abandoned its effort to build nuclear weapons in exchange for economic benefits and warmer relations. Within a few years, Libya’s leader, Moammar Kadafi, lost his job and his life at the hands of Western-backed rebels.

The North Koreans threatened this week to back out of the summit, citing Bolton by name as they accused the U.S. of making unreasonable demands for rapid abandonment of their nuclear program.

“The Libyan model isn’t a model that we have at all,” Trump told reporters during a photo session with the visiting secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Jens Stoltenberg. “We decimated that country.”

By contrast, Trump promised that if the United States reaches a deal with North Korea, Kim would “be running his country. His country would be very rich.”

The president also vowed that Kim would “get protections that will be very strong,” a sharp departure from the fiery rhetoric Trump used just months ago against the isolated despot and a promise that would appear to go far beyond what previous administrations have offered the communist dictatorship. Previous administrations have offered economic incentives and pledges not to take hostile action against the North Koreans, but have not said they would affirmatively protect the North.

Trump also implied Thursday that China’s President Xi Jinping may be trying to influence the North Koreans to take a harder line with the U.S., perhaps in response to U.S. pressure on trade.

Trump’s efforts to soothe Pyongyang could prevent Kim from following through on the threat to call off the summit. But his words highlighted his eagerness to get a deal — an emotion that even some of Trump’s aides fear could lead him to give up too much at the negotiating table.

His disavowal of Bolton’s remark could also undermine Trump’s ability to present a unified front for his administration as he prepares to face off with a country that for decades has defied international laws and scuttled American efforts to rein in its nuclear program. Americans who have negotiated with Kim and his father, Kim Jong Il, who ruled before him, say the country’s authoritarian leadership has a history of trickery and dishonest dealing.

“When the president openly disagrees with his national security advisor about the objective of talks, that’s going to encourage North Korean mischief, and it’s going to discourage allies who depend on the United States to be steady,” said Michael J. Green, who served as senior Asia advisor to President George W. Bush during a prior effort to negotiate with North Korea. Those talks also included South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.

“It appears he’s going with his gut, but when the stakes are this high, that can have real consequences if played wrong,” Green added.

John Park, director of the Korea Working Group at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass., said Trump was making clear to North Korea that he is focused on the deal above all else. The North Koreans, as they threatened to withdraw this week, also said they felt misled about the extent of joint South Korean-U.S. military exercises. By laying out their concerns in public without actually withdrawing, they were intentionally leaving Trump a way to preserve the summit, Park said.

“The way that things are playing out right now, the choice for the president is Bolton or the summit,” Park said. “The early signs are that he’s prioritizing the summit,” he said, adding that he did not think Bolton would actually lose his job.

During the impromptu question-and-answer session, Trump returned twice to China’s role, saying the North Koreans began making more provocative statements shortly after a recent meeting between Kim and Xi, the second between the two. China is North Korea’s most important political and economic ally.

“There has been a big difference since they had the second meeting,” Trump said.

“President Xi could be influencing Kim Jong Un,” Trump added, noting the disputes between the U.S. and China over trade, which are the subject of meetings this week between U.S. and Chinese officials.

But experts in the region say that China — even as it is frustrated with Trump’s trade demands — generally supports U.S. efforts to broker peace with North Korea, especially if a deal includes a reduction of American troops in the region.

Trump added that U.S. and North Korean diplomats continue to meet to plan for the summit.

“Nothing has changed on North Korea that we know of,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. If the meeting happens, it happens.” If not, “we go on to the next step.”

The State Department also insisted Thursday that preparations were continuing. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has met twice with Kim, has been on the telephone this week with South Korean officials to assure them that the meeting is still on track. “We always knew there would be twists and turns,” a senior State Department official said.

During his first year in office, Trump had dismissed diplomacy with Kim as a waste of time, taunting the North Korean leader as “Little Rocket Man” and threatening to overwhelm North Korea with “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States militarily. But Trump’s tone changed in March after he accepted an invitation, issued via South Korea, to meet one-on-one with Kim in a first-of-its kind summit.

Since then, Trump has called Kim “honorable,” praised him for releasing three American prisoners last week and spoken hopefully about the potential for peace.

But the two sides remain far apart on their objectives for the meeting. Trump has insisted North Korea dismantle its entire nuclear program, giving up a weapons effort that the Kim dynasty has spent decades and huge amounts of money to secure. Most experts in the region believe the country would be extremely unlikely to take that step. It’s unclear whether Trump would ultimately accept something short of that.

“The North Koreans, this is typical bluster on this side, typical muscle flexing,” said Bill Richardson, a former congressman and United Nations ambassador and one of the few Americans to negotiate directly with Kim Jong Il. “They felt they had been cornered on the denuclearization issue, and they want to defuse that.”

Richardson said he believes that Trump sent a positive signal to North Korea and that Bolton was out of line with the Libya comparison. But as the summit approaches, Richardson said that Trump should designate Pompeo, the only official in the administration who has met with Kim, as the administration’s sole spokesman.

“They’re devious, they’re unpredictable, they’re flexing muscles,” he said of North Korea. “But I think in the end the summit will happen because both sides need it badly.”

Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson contributed to this report.

Twitter: @noahbierman


North Korea Wavers on U.S. Summit, Accentuating the Gap Over Nuclear Weapons

For weeks’ the countries’ talks have appeared to be gaining momentum

Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are June 12 in Singapore.
Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are June 12 in Singapore. PHOTO: KOREA SUMMIT PRESS/POOL/EPA-EFE//EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

SEOUL—For weeks, President Donald Trump has said he might walk away from a bad deal with North Korea. On Wednesday, Pyongyang signaled that it, too, might turn its back on talks.

North Korea’s warnings that it would cancel a June summit if Washington insists on rapid disarmament highlight the depth of the division between the two sides in denuclearization talks.

In a statement carried by North Korean state media, a senior diplomat, Kim Kye Gwan, expressed “indignation” and said Pyongyang wasn’t interested in trading its weapons for economic assistance.

“If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested” in dialogue, Mr. Kim said.

In remarks early Wednesday to reporters, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the White House wasn’t surprised by the threat.

“This is something we fully expected,” said Ms. Sanders. “The president is very used to and ready for tough negotiations.”

“We’re still hopeful” that the meeting takes place, Ms. Sanders said, and said the U.S. would keep up a “campaign of maximum pressure.”

The harshly worded North Korean statement, and another broadside criticizing military exercises under way in South Korea, came after weeks of discussions between the two sides that appeared to be gaining momentum.

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Pyongyang for a second meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and returned with three detained U.S. citizens—a move that Mr. Trump said signaled North Korea’s willingness to improve ties with the U.S.

“This is a message to the U.S. saying if it continues to demand what it is demanding, North Korea is ready to leave the negotiating table,” said Go Myung-hyun, a North Korea specialist at the Asan Institute think tank in Seoul who has taken a more skeptical view of the North’s recent moves.

Ms. Sanders said on “Fox & Friends” on Fox News that the Trump administration remains optimistic that the summit will take place.

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A spokesman for South Korea’s president said Wednesday that the “current situation is a difficult process” but played down the possibility that the North would back out of the summit between Messrs. Trump and Kim, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.

The North Korean statement focused its ire on Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, who has called for Pyongyang to turn over its nuclear arsenal to the U.S. and commit to “irreversible” disarmament.

It cautioned Mr. Trump that if he follows Mr. Bolton’s lead, “he will be recorded as more tragic and unsuccessful president than his predecessors, far from his ambition to make unprecedented success.”

“The overwhelming focus on Bolton, rather than U.S. President Donald Trump, is a possible attempt to drive a wedge” between the two, said Miha Hribernik, a Beijing-based analyst for Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy.

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“If the hard-line adviser is sidelined during future talks, Pyongyang may be able to persuade Trump to step back from demands for unilateral disarmament and walk away with a media-friendly compromise deal,” Mr. Hribernik said.

On Wednesday, Pyongyang expressed its disdain for what it called a “Libya mode” of dealing. Mr. Bolton helped reach a deal with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2003 that gave up its nuclear program. Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011 during the Arab Spring.

North Korea said it had never sought “economic compensation and benefit” in exchange for relinquishing its nuclear arsenal, throwing into question a core pillar of North Korea nuclear diplomacy stretching back to the early 1990s.

Pyongyang didn’t make clear what kind of a deal it wants in lieu of economic inducements. Some experts say the North is likely to want security concessions, such as the scaling back of U.S. military exercises with South Korea, a drawdown of the 28,500 American troops on the Korean Peninsula and even the removal of the U.S. nuclear security guarantee for South Korea.

The overwhelming focus on Bolton, rather than U.S. President Donald Trump, is a possible attempt to drive a wedge.

—Miha Hribernik of Verisk Maplecroft risk consultancy

“North Korea has reasserted its standard position as a condition for talks: denuclearization as a protracted negotiation that requires security concessions from the alliance, not just economic payoffs,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington.

North Korea first signaled it would reconsider a summit with Mr. Trump early Wednesday by lashing out at the U.S.’s annual “Max Thunder” exercises in South Korea, which involve F-22 Raptors, some of the U.S.’s most advanced jet fighters.

The threat to walk away appeared to catch by surprise South Korea’s Moon Jae-in administration, which has been trying to push for more dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang. As recently as Tuesday, a senior adviser to Mr. Moon said a grand bargain could involve a “big gift” from Mr. Kim to Mr. Trump to build confidence in North Korea’s commitment to fully denuclearize.

If that happens, said Moon Chung-in, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul and a prominent adviser to the president, the U.S. should respond by loosening sanctions to start a process that will eventually end North Korea’s weapons program.

Robert Kelly, a professor of political science and diplomacy at Pusan National University in South Korea, said it was unlikely Pyongyang would scrap the summit altogether and that the latest rhetoric was posturing meant to improve its bargaining position.

“I don’t think the summit will be canceled. I think both sides want it,” Mr. Kelly said. “The North Koreans are shopping around for a deal and are trying to see what they can get for them,” he added, referring to the country’s nuclear weapons.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor of security studies at Kyungnam University in South Korea, said the North’s statement was an attempt to make clear that it won’t tolerate any attempts by the U.S. to push for upfront North Korean concessions.

“The North Koreans probably thought they had some kind of new mutually satisfactory deal but were taken aback by statements to not dream about sanctions relief or economic support before denuclearization,” he said.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at and Andrew Jeong at


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