As the dust settled on North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear facility after the regime said it had been completely dismantled, I got chatting to one of the officials at the site. He asked me what happens next.
When I said I didn’t know, he replied that he thought it was Donald Trump’s move.
The US President didn’t waste much time. We were on the train back to Wonsan, editing our TV report when we got the news that he had cancelled the summit.
At the same time, the train came to an ominous halt. It’s hard not to be paranoid in North Korea but it soon moved on.
And in fact, North Korea’s response to the cancellation has been fairly sanguine.
No fire and fury from their leader Kim Jong-un this time.
Instead, a statement from the state news agency said the regime was “willing to meet face to face at anytime and anywhere”.
Perhaps after insulting Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser John Bolton over the last few weeks, Kim didn’t feel the need to repeat his insult of long ago, when he called Trump a “dotard”.
That was as recently as September last year.
The mild response is also because North Korea’s position has improved considerably since then, even in such a short space of time.
First, for the supreme leader himself. His image before had been that of isolated despot.
Then he seized the diplomatic initiative by sending a delegation to the South Korean Olympics.
Since then, his meeting with South Korean president Moon Jae-In has helped him to recast himself, at least slightly, as an international statesman. It’s some transformation.
Second, he has won friends for North Korea. The country stood alone last year. After Trump’s cancellation, though, President Moon said he was “baffled” and “regretful”, and that the South would continue to talk to the North.
It’s not completely rosy – the two countries had a big argument just last week – but it’s much better than before.
And Moon owes much of his current popularity to how he’s handled North Korea.
China, which had been said to be growing weary of its troublesome neighbour, has renewed relations.
Beijing was Kim Jong-un’s first foreign trip – and his second. China has been annoyed at its relative exclusion from the peninsula talks on its very border; Kim brought them in and played them off against the US.
Now Kim can (probably) count on China’s support. It’s notable that Trump said he though Kim’s attitude had changed after his second meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping.
And in some ways, the cancellation might help the chances of long-term peace. The closer that 12 June drew near, the further apart the US’s and North Korea’s positions seemed.
Rushing into a summit on that basis, with Trump and Kim face to face, could have led to a complete collapse.
If both sides take more time, they might find themselves closer together. And peace might have a better chance.