White House: North Korea's response to Pence was 'last straw'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korea’s reaction to comments by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence were the “last straw” that led the White House to cancel President Donald Trump’s planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a White House official said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence addresses the Organization of American States at OAS headquarters in Washington, U.S. May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

North Korea’s vice foreign minister called remarks by Pence about North Korea stupid and suggested the two countries could either meet for a summit or for a nuclear showdown.

Pence said in an interview with Fox News Channel on Monday that the interaction with North Korea could “end like the Libya Model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal.”

The White House official said that, after the North Korean reaction to those comments, senior administration officials at the highest levels held discussions that eventually led to the cancellation of the summit.

A second White House official said the threat of a nuclear conflict was a major factor in Trump walking away from the meeting with Kim.

“The North Koreans literally threatened nuclear war in the statement released last night. No summit could be successful under these circumstances,” she said.

The State Department transmitted Trump’s letter announcing the cancellation to North Korea through existing channels.

The first White House official said there was still hope for peace with North Korea but the country needed to change its rhetoric to get there.

“There is a backdoor that’s open still if the North Koreans are willing to walk through it. But it involves some changing of their rhetoric ... at a minimum,” he said.

“I don’t think that hope is entirely gone, but obviously more needs to be done before we get in a place that’s better.”

Reporting by Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton; editing by Bill Trott and Jonathan Oatis