TOKYO — North Korea has lobbed another verbal salvo at Washington ahead of an increasingly embattled plan for its leader, Kim Jong Un, and President Donald Trump to meet next month, calling Vice President Mike Pence a "political dummy" and saying it is just as ready to meet in a nuclear confrontation as at the negotiating table.
The outburst at Pence, issued in the name of a top Foreign Ministry official, comes on the heels of another sharp rebuke of Trump's newly appointed national security adviser, John Bolton, and has raised concerns a major gap has opened between the two sides just weeks before the June 12 summit in Singapore.
In both cases, Pyongyang was trying to push back against hard-line comments suggesting North Korea may end up like Libya if it doesn't move forward quickly and irreversibly with concrete measures to get rid of its nuclear weapons.
Choe Son Hui, a vice minister of foreign affairs, was quoted Thursday by the North's state-run news agency slamming as "ignorant" and "stupid" comments Pence made in an interview with Fox News that compared the nuclear-capable North to Libya. Libya gave up its program at an early stage only to see its longtime dictator overthrown and brutally killed years later.
She questioned whether the summit would be worthwhile if the remarks reflect Washington's position.
"We will neither beg the U.S. for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us," KCNA quoted her as saying. "Whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States."
The summit plan has hit a number of speed bumps recently as both sides have begun trading barbs and taking tougher positions. Trump met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday at the White House for consultations and suggested the summit could be delayed or even called off entirely.
Even so, both sides still seem to want to hold the meeting, which would be unprecedented.
Success in talks would be a huge accomplishment for Trump. Meeting with the U.S. president as an equal on the world stage would be a major coup for Kim.
Despite its insults to Pence and defiant rhetorical flourishes, Choe's statement did not directly criticize Trump and carefully noted that she would only recommend the North Korean leader withdraw from the meeting if Washington "clings to unlawful and outrageous acts."
Meanwhile, officials from the two sides are reportedly planning to meet in Singapore this weekend to further discuss the agenda and logistics. And North Korea was moving forward with a major gesture of goodwill ahead of the summit by dismantling its nuclear test site.
The North, which has vowed to stop all underground nuclear testing and intercontinental ballistic missile launches, has invited foreign media to the remote site to observe a ceremony to mark the closing. The ceremony was expected to be held Thursday or Friday, depending on the weather.
Choe, a veteran diplomat and former head of the North America desk at the North's Foreign Ministry, was responding to comments Pence made to Fox News this week that it would be a "mistake" for the North Koreans to think they can "play" Trump. Pence said both the Clinton and Bush administrations had been "played" by the North Korean government.
"We offered concessions to the North Korean regime in exchange for promises to end their nuclear weapons program, only to see them break those promises and abandon them," Pence said, adding that if Pyongyang does not go along with talks to give up its nuclear weapons, Washington could return to the "Libya model."
That suggestion — which Trump had earlier seemed to distance himself from — is especially inflammatory to Pyongyang.
The Libya model refers to negotiations in 2004 that led to the shipping of nuclear components to the U.S. from Libya under Moammar Gadhafi. But in Pyongyang's mind the most important part of the story is what came after that. Gadhafi was deposed after a 42-year reign and killed in 2011 — the year Kim assumed power in North Korea — while his country spiraled into chaos.
"In view of the remarks of the U.S. high-ranking politicians who have not yet woken up to this stark reality and compare the DPRK to Libya that met a tragic fate, I come to think that they know too little about us," Choe said, using the acronym for North Korea's official name.
She added: "To borrow their words, we can also make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up to now."