US President Donald Trump tried to put his summit with Kim Jong Un back on track Thursday, offering the North Korean leader guarantees of staying in power if he abandons nuclear weapons.
As prospects for a historic summit next month between the two leaders dimmed, Trump told reporters that if the meeting were to go ahead successfully, Kim "will get protections that will be very strong."
"He'd be in his country and running his country. His country would be very rich."
But the pledge came barbed with a warning that if diplomacy fails, Kim could suffer the same fate as Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, who was overthrown and killed by rebels.
Trump's comments came as Pyongyang appeared to cool to the idea of the sit-down in Singapore on June 12, denouncing US demands for "unilateral nuclear abandonment."
Trump suggested Kim's apparent about-face may have been at the behest of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
"It could very well be that he's influencing Kim Jong Un," Trump said, citing a recent meeting between the pair, their second in a month's time. "We'll see what happens."
For decades, Washington has watched in horror as North Korea -- propped up by trade with China -- has made a series of technological leaps toward building a missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon to US cities.
That grim achievement is now within reach, prompting Trump to launch a campaign of "maximum pressure" on the regime, coupled with the offer of talks.
A series of landmark meetings between Kim and his South Korean counterpart and between North Korean and US officials had made diplomacy look like the more likely avenue.
After the months of photo-ops and diplomatic backslapping, a North Korean official was quoted as saying the summit may not go ahead.
The official also groused about Trump's National Security Advisor John Bolton, who referred to Libya as a model for denuclearization.
In 2003, Gaddafi agreed to the elimination of his country's nuclear programme and chemical weapons arsenal to gain sanctions relief.
But Trump, and Pyongyang, appeared to zero in on what happened a decade later during the Libyan revolution, when NATO-backed rebels ousted the government and killed Gaddafi.
"The Libyan model isn't a model that we have (in mind) at all when we're thinking of North Korea," Trump said while sitting at arm's length from Bolton in the Oval Office.
"If you look at that model with Gaddafi, that was a total decimation. We went in there to beat him," Trump said.
"Now, that model would take place if we don't make a deal, most likely," he warned Pyongyang.
"But if we make a deal, I think Kim Jong Un is going to be very, very happy."
Although the Kim-Trump summit remains up in the air, preparations are continuing.
"North Korea is actually talking to us about times and everything else as though nothing happened," said Trump.
"We are continuing to negotiate in terms of location... where to meet, how to meet, rooms, everything else and negotiating like nothing happened."