North Korea’s abrupt threat this week to pull out of the upcoming summit with President Trump was highly calculated, according to intelligence officials who say Pyongyang wanted to harden its negotiating position against a quick “Libya-style” surrender of its nuclear programs sought by the Trump White House and buy time to hide its nuclear weapons.
While U.S. officials say they believe Pyongyang’s threat — conveyed so far only via state-controlled media — was also driven by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s need to show his domestic audience he won’t “roll over” to Mr. Trump, the development raised fresh questions about the scope of Pyongyang’s nuclear operations and Mr. Kim’s willingness to abandon them.
While great uncertainty swirls around the extent of North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure, U.S. officials and private analysts say Pyongyang’s history of dragging out talks and inking agreements they have no intention of implementing is well known.
“The North Koreans have this belief they can somehow outsmart the U.S.,” said Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who is close with the Trump administration and has past experience negotiating with Pyongyang.
“They may be attempting to sanitize their facilities right now while also trying to buy more time for that,” he said.
In a move that took both Washington and Seoul by surprise, Pyongyang has seized on joint U.S.-South Korean military drills now underway as the justification to cancel a...