On Thursday, President Donald Trump's letter to North Korea Premiere Kim Jong Un abruptly canceling the much-anticipated summit between the two leaders came as a surprise to international allies and the American public. But the president, fearing that the North Koreans might beat him to the punch, wanted to be the one to cancel first, multiple officials told NBC News.
Trump's decision blindsided his closest insiders. "There was no hint of this yesterday," one official familiar with the summit preparations said. The stakes were "high risk, high reward."
White House officials said talk of abandoning the summit began late Wednesday and included the president, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, chief of staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton.
The decision was based, in part, on inflammatory rhetoric being lobbed back and forth between North Korea and the United States. On Wednesday, Kim warned of "nuclear showdown" with the United States.
More than 20 foreign journalists, including some Americans, remain in North Korea.
According to NBC News, "the decision occurred so abruptly that the administration was unable to give congressional leaders and key allies advance notice."
The letter went out while more than two dozen foreign journalists, including several U.S. citizens, were inside North Korea where they had gone to witness a promised dismantling of a nuclear test site.
Warring factions within the Trump administration have been making negotiations difficult. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has traveled to North Korea to meet with Kim in an effort to push for a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear issue. Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton, however, has fanned the flames of using military force. On April 29, Bolton first proposed the "Libya model" that was cited by Pence earlier this week.
Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX) said that Trump's team simply wasn't prepared for the meeting.
On Friday morning, Trump made another surprise announcement to reporters when he said that the June 12th meeting might be back on.
“We’ll see what happens,” the president said. “It could even be the 12th. We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it. We’ll see what happens.”