Talks between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un collapsed Thursday after the two sides failed to bridge a standoff over U.S. sanctions, a dispiriting end to high-stakes meetings meant to disarm a global nuclear threat.
Trump blamed the breakdown on North Korea’s insistence that all the punishing sanctions the U.S. has imposed on Pyongyang be lifted without the North committing to eliminate its nuclear arsenal.
“Sometimes you have to walk,” Trump explained at a closing news conference after the summit was abruptly cut short. He said there had been a proposed agreement that was “ready to be signed.”
“I’d much rather do it right than do it fast,” the president said. “We’re in position to do something very special.”
Mere hours after both nations had seemed hopeful of a deal, the two leaders’ motorcades roared away from the summit site in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam, within minutes of each other, their lunch canceled and a signing ceremony scuttled.
The president’s closing news conference was hurriedly moved up, and he departed for Washington more than two hours ahead of schedule.
— Department of State (@StateDept) February 28, 2019
The disintegration of talks came after Trump and Kim had appeared to be ready to inch toward normalizing relations between their still technically warring nations and as the American leader dampened expectations that their negotiations would yield an agreement by North Korea to take concrete steps toward ending a nuclear program that Pyongyang likely sees as its strongest security guarantee.
In something of a role reversal, Trump had deliberately ratcheted down some of the pressure on North Korea, abandoning his fiery rhetoric and declaring that he wanted the “right deal” over a rushed agreement.
For his part, Kim, when asked whether he was ready to denuclearize, had said, “If I’m not willing to do that I won’t be here right now.”
North Korea’s state media made no immediate comment on the diplomatic impasse, and Kim remained in his locked-down hotel after leaving the summit venue.
The North Korean leader was scheduled to meet with top Vietnamese leaders on Friday and leave Saturday on his armored train for the long return trip, through China, to North Korea.
Trump insisted his relations with Kim remained warm, but he did not commit to having a third summit with the North Korean leader, saying a possible next meeting “may not be for a long time.”
Though both he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said significant progress had been made in Hanoi, the two sides appeared to be far apart on an agreement that would live up to the United States’ stated goals.
“Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that,” Trump told reporters.
Kim, he said, appeared willing to close his country’s main nuclear facility, the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, if the sanctions were lifted.
However, that would leave him with missiles, warheads and weapon systems, Pompeo said. There are also suspected hidden nuclear fuel production sites around the country.
“We couldn’t quite get there today,” Pompeo said.
Longstanding U.S. policy has insisted that U.S. sanctions on North Korea would not be lifted until that country committed to, if not concluded, complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. Trump declined to restate that goal Thursday, insisting he wanted flexibility in talks with Kim.
“I don’t want to put myself in that position from the standpoint of negotiation,” he said.
White House aides stressed that Trump stood strong, and some observers evoked the 1987 Reykjavík summit between Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev, a meeting over nuclear weapons that ended without a deal but laid the groundwork for a future agreement.
The failure to reach an agreement triggered disappointment and alarm in South Korea, whose president, Moon Jae-in, has been a leading orchestrator of the nuclear diplomacy and who needs a breakthrough to restart lucrative engagement projects with the impoverished North. Yonhap news agency said the clock on the Korean Peninsula’s security situation has “turned back to zero” and diplomacy is now “at a crossroads.”
It was a dramatic turnaround from the optimism that surrounded the talks after the leaders’ dinner Wednesday and that had prompted the White House to list a signing ceremony on Trump’s official schedule for Thursday.
The two leaders had seemed to find a point of agreement when Kim, who fielded questions from American journalists for the first time, was asked if the U.S. may open a liaison office in North Korea. Trump declared it “not a bad idea,” and Kim called it “welcomable.” Such an office would mark the first U.S. presence in North Korea and a significant grant to a country that has long been deliberately starved of international recognition.
But questions persisted throughout the summit, including whether Kim was willing to make valuable concessions.
There had long been skepticism that Kim would be willing to give away the weapons his nation had spent decades developing and Pyongyang felt ensured its survival. But even after the summit ended, Trump praised Kim’s commitment to continue a moratorium on missile testing.
The president also said he believed the autocrat’s claim that he had nothing to do with the 2017 death of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died after being held in a North Korean prison.
“I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen,” Trump said. “He felt badly about it.”
If the first Trump-Kim summit gave the reclusive nation’s leader entree onto the international stage, the second appeared to grant him the legitimacy his family has long desired.
Kim, for the first time, affably parried with the international news media without having to account for his government’s long history of oppression. He secured Trump’s support for the opening of a liaison office in Pyongyang, without offering any concessions of his own. Even without an agreement, Trump’s backing for the step toward normalization provided the sort of recognition the international community has long denied Kim’s government.
Experts worried that the darker side of Kim’s leadership was being brushed aside in the rush to address the North’s nuclear weapons program: the charges of massive human rights abuses; the prison camps filled with dissidents; a near complete absence of media, religious and speech freedoms; the famine in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands; and the executions of a slew of government and military officials, including his uncle and the alleged assassination order of his half-brother in a Malaysian airport.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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