A second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapsed on Thursday over sanctions, and the two sides gave conflicting accounts of what happened, raising questions about the future of their denuclearization negotiations.
Trump said two days of talks in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi had made good progress in building relations and on the main issue of denuclearization, but it was important not to rush into a bad deal. He said he had walked away because of unacceptable North Korean demands.
“It was all about the sanctions,” Trump told a news conference after the talks were cut short. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.”
However, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho told a news conference past midnight and hours after Trump left Hanoi that North Korea had sought only a partial lifting of sanctions “related to people’s livelihoods and unrelated to military sanctions”.
He said it had offered a realistic proposal involving the dismantling of all of its main nuclear site at Yongbyon, including plutonium and uranium facilities, by engineers from both countries.
“This is the biggest denuclearization step we can take based on the current level of trust between the two countries,” Ri said in a rare exchange between North Korean officials and reporters.
“It’s hard to say there will be something better than what we offered. We may not have such an opportunity again. We need such a first step on the road to complete denuclearization. Our fundamental stance will never change and even if US seeks further talks, our position won’t change,” Ri said.
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told the same briefing she had the impression that Kim “might lose his willingness to pursue a deal” after the US side rejected a partial lifting of sanctions in return for destruction of Yongbyon, “something we had never offered before”.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, asked about North Korea’s statements, said the president was aware of the comments and the White House had nothing to add to what Trump said at the Hanoi news conference.
Trump spoke to the leaders of South Korea and Japan on his way back from Hanoi and told them that the United States would continue to work with them and talk to North Korea, Sanders said.
Reporting on the summit, North Korean state media KCNA said Kim and Trump had a constructive and sincere exchange of views and decided to continue productive talks, without mentioning that the talks ended abruptly with no agreement reached.
The meeting was an important chance to build trust and lift the relationship between the US and North Korea to the next level, it said.
Kim expressed gratitude to Trump for traveling so far and actively putting in efforts to get results, KCNA added.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the two countries could hold further meetings, but there was no plan to do so immediately.
The United Nations and the US ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state conducted repeated nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources of hard cash.
Kicking off their second day of talks in Hanoi, Trump said he would be happy as long as North Korea conducted no more nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
North Korea has conducted no tests since late 2017, and Trump said Kim had promised him there would be no resumption.
Besides Yongbyon, Trump said there were other facilities he wanted included in a deal – and the North Koreans had been surprised the Americans knew about them – but they had baulked.
US intelligence officials have said there is no sign North Korea would ever give up its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, which Kim’s ruling family sees as vital to its survival.
Daniel Russel, the State Department’s former top diplomat for East Asia until early in the Trump administration, said the failure showed Trump had rushed into the summit.
“The Hanoi Summit validates Benjamin Franklin’s axiom that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” he said. “The hard diplomatic work of narrowing differences and exploring options had simply not been done, so it is not surprising that the two leaders encountered insurmountable differences.”
Russel said Kim might have thought he could drive a hard bargain, given Trump’s domestic troubles.
“Kim Jong-un is not testing ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs at the moment, but he is testing Donald Trump. Kim may have wanted to see if Trump’s domestic legal and political woes made him desperate enough to take any deal he could get.” Reuters
– Contact us at [email protected]