THE sun smiled down on the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas on April 27th, the day Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, met Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, for a strikingly warm summit at which they agreed on the “complete denuclearisation” of the peninsula. On May 16th the weather was very different, and so was the news. Thunderstorms battered Seoul as the North announced that it was cancelling high-level talks with the South to which it had agreed barely 24 hours earlier. It also threatened to pull out of a summit between Mr Kim and Donald Trump, America’s president, scheduled to take place in Singapore on June 12th.
The North gave two reasons for its ire: long-scheduled military exercises between America and South Korea, to which it had previously acquiesced (although it may have been surprised by the involvement of stealth fighters, which could be used in a “decapitation” strike, and B-52s, which can carry nuclear bombs), and America’s insistence that it must unilaterally forswear nuclear arms—the very condition on which America agreed to talks in the first place. Statements relayed by the official news agency made it clear that economic assistance would not be sufficient recompense for nuclear disarmament, as Mr Kim seemed to suggest only last week.
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Mr Trump’s eagerness to make history in front of the global media will not have escaped Mr Kim. Nor will southerners’ desire for peace. In South Korea, the bolt from the blue did not seem to dent popular optimism. On social media hardly anybody reproached Mr Kim. Many expressed sympathy. “Kim Jong Un is right. We shouldn’t push North Korea into a corner,” ran one popular comment.
South Korea’s unification ministry said that the North’s about-face was “regrettable”. Mr Moon’s office did not even go that far, claiming the move was “just part of the process”. The White House said it had received no indication that the Singapore summit would not go ahead.
North Korea says the summit can proceed only if America is “sincere” about improving relations. But it is the North’s sincerity that has always been in question. At the very least, the kerfuffle is a reminder that until a few months ago, Mr Kim was seen as untrustworthy and belligerent. He probably still is.