President Donald Trump sought to placate North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday after Pyongyang threatened to scrap an unprecedented summit between the two leaders.
He said Kim's security would be guaranteed in any deal and his country would not suffer the fate of Moammar Gadhafi's Libya — unless a deal could not be reached.
In rambling remarks in the White House's Oval Office in which he also sharply criticized China over trade, Trump said that as far as he knew the meeting with Kim was still on track, but that the North Korean leader was possibly being influenced by Beijing after two recent visits he made there.
Trump distanced himself from comments by John Bolton, his national security adviser, that North Korea angrily denounced when casting doubt on the summit, which is planned for June 12 in Singapore.
"North Korea is actually talking to us about times and everything else as though nothing happened," Trump told reporters.
Trump said he was not pursuing the "Libya model" in getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Bolton has repeatedly suggested the Libya model of unilateral disarmament for North Korea, most recently on Sunday.
Gadhafi was deposed and killed after Libyans joined the 2011 Arab Spring protests, aided by NATO allies who had encouraged him to give up his banned weapons of mass destruction under a 2003 deal.
In a statement on Wednesday that threatened withdrawal from the summit, North Korea's first vice minister of foreign affairs, Kim Kye Gwan, derided as "absurd" Bolton's suggestion of a deal similar to that under which components of Libya's nuclear program were shipped to the United States.
"[The] world knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met miserable fate," he said in apparent reference to the demises of Gadhafi and Iraq’s former president Saddam Hussein.
The North Korean reaction marked a dramatic reversal in tone after months of easing tensions.
In response, Trump said the deal he was looking at would give Kim Jong Un "protections that will be very strong."
"He would be there, he would be running his country, his country would be very rich," Trump said.
"The Libya model was a much different model. We decimated that country," he said, adding that it would only come into play "most likely" if a deal could not be reached with North Korea.
Trump stressed that North Korea would have to abandon its nuclear weapons.
"We cannot let that country have nukes. We just can't do it," he said of North Korea, which has been working on missiles capable of hitting the United States.
The United States has demanded the "complete, verifiable, and irreversible" dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Pyongyang has rejected unilateral disarmament and given no indication that it is willing to go beyond statements of broad support for the concept of universal denuclearization.
It has said in previous, failed talks that it could consider giving up its arsenal if the United States provided security guarantees by removing its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.