WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump smiled broadly last week when a reporter asked whether he deserved a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to get North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to give up nuclear arms.
"Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it," the president said, adding, "The prize I want is victory for the world."
Modesty real or feigned aside, for weeks Trump has been clear that he views the scheduled June 12 summit with Kim as potentially a crowning moment -- both a validation of his disruptive, idiosyncratic approach to world affairs and a rejoinder to the investigations and controversies that engulf his presidency.
Word of North Korea's threat late Tuesday to cancel the summit has cooled some of that heady talk, leaving the president and his spokeswoman sounding publicly ambivalent Wednesday about whether the meeting comes off at all.
Kim's government said it would call off the meeting "if the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment."
Its statement cited comments by Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, that compared the administration's strategy with North Korea to the George W. Bush administration's policy toward Libya, which agreed to give up a more primitive nuclear program in 2003. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was toppled and executed by Western-backed rebels a few years later, serving as a cautionary tale to Kim.
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Trump remained publicly sanguine. "We'll see what happens," he told reporters at the White House on Wednesday, adding that he had not heard anything official from North Korea.
Experts on North Korea say that the latest setback, even if it proves to be a mere speed bump, should serve as a reminder that achieving any deal with North Korea will not come without obstacles, false starts and repeated tests from an unpredictable government known to toy with its foes.
Some warn that Trump's exuberance for striking the ultimate deal already has given Kim added leverage.
"Kim assumes rightly that Trump is more eager than he for a meeting," said Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korean studies professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts. "I would say Kim has Trump on a short leash right now."