Hanoi Summit Ends Early With No Agreement
The second summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un ended early without any kind of agreement, signalling that no real progress has been made in talks between the two countries.
The Hanoi Summit between President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un ended early today with the two sides unable to reach an agreement:
A day that started with the promise of a denuclearization deal and talk of an official declaration to end the Korean War ended abruptly, without a deal.
“Sometimes you have to walk,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference after the talks fell apart.
Mr. Trump said the major sticking point to a deal with North Korea was the lifting of sanctions. Mr. Kim, the president said, wanted sanctions fully lifted in exchange for dismantling some — but not all — of the North’s nuclear weapons program.
“Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety and we couldn’t do that,” Mr. Trump said. “They were willing to denuke a large portion of the areas that we want, but we couldn’t give up all of the sanctions for that.”
Lifting punishing international sanctions that limit North Korea’s ability to import oil, and to export lucrative goods including coal and seafood, is the North’s primary goal in any negotiation. As a result, the United States sees the sanctions as a critical bargaining chip.
Mr. Trump said he and Mr. Kim discussed the closure of North Korea’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, and Mr. Kim expressed a willingness to allow the facility to be dismantled.
“He would do that but he wants the sanctions for that,” Mr. Trump said. “As you know, there’s plenty left after that. I just felt it wasn’t good.”
Yongbyon is the North’s largest facility, but not its only one. At his news conference, Mr. Trump acknowledged that the country had another uranium enrichment plant. North Korea has long been suspected of having uranium enrichment capabilities beyond Yongbyon.
Mr. Trump said he and Mr. Kim discussed the case of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died last year after being imprisoned in North Korea.
The president defended Mr. Kim, saying he believed the North Korean leader was unaware of the gravity of Mr. Warmbier’s medical condition.
More from The Washington Post:
HANOI — President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un abruptly cut short their two-day summit Thursday after they failed to reach an agreement to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.
Talks collapsed unexpectedly amid a disagreement over economic sanctions, with the two leaders and their delegations departing their meeting site in Vietnam’s capital city without sitting for a planned lunch or participating in a scheduled signing ceremony.
Kim said he was prepared in principle to denuclearize, and Trump said an agreement was “ready to sign.” But Trump said the main impediment to a deal was Kim’s requirement that the United States lift all economic sanctions on North Korea in exchange for the closure of only one North Korean nuclear facility, which still would have left Pyongyang with a large arsenal of missiles and warheads.
“We had some options, but at this time we decided not to do any of the options,” Trump said. He added, “Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.”
For Trump, the surprising turn of events amounted to a diplomatic failure. The president flew 20 hours to Vietnam with hopes of producing demonstrable progress toward North Korea’s denuclearization, building upon his first summit meeting with Kim last summer in Singapore.
The breakdown sent shivers through financial markets in Asia, with South Korea’s stock market falling sharply just before the close of trading to end down 1.8 percent. The South Korean won also slipped, and Japan’s main Nikkei 225 share index ended down 0.8 percent.
At a news conference before he departed Vietnam to return to Washington, Trump said he and Kim did not commit to holding a third summit. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped negotiators from the two countries could narrow differences in the future, but he did not announce any firm plans to continue talking.
Trump said Kim promised he would not conduct missile launches or test nuclear weapons. And he said Kim was willing to close Yongbyon Nuclear Research Complex, the site of North Korea’s main nuclear reactor and its only source of plutonium to make bombs. But Trump said other covert facilities to enrich uranium had not been offered up.
Trump zeroed in on sanctions as the key sticking point in his talks with Kim.
“It was about the sanctions,” he said. “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that. They were willing to denuke a large portion of the areas that we wanted, but we couldn’t give up all of the sanctions for that.”
Pompeo said, “I wish we could have gotten a little bit further,” but added that he was optimistic about the progress that was been made simply by meeting.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get all the way,” Pompeo said. “We didn’t get to something that ultimately made sense for the United States of America.”
It was clear that the two sides remain far apart on some key issues, including a pretty fundamental one: What denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula actually means. It is still not clear what demands Kim would place on U.S. forces in South Korea and in the region for him to be willing to surrender his nuclear arsenal.
“He has a certain vision,” Trump said. “It’s not exactly our vision, but it’s a lot closer than it was a year ago.”
In the run-up to the talks, the United States had been offering to declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, open liaison offices in each other’s capitals, and had been demanding North Korea at least agree to close down its production of fissile material to make bombs. The United States appeared willing to offer some mild sanctions relief in return for such a deal, but insisted the sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council had to stay intact until North Korea fully denuclearizes.
But it was clear the North Korea counter-offer still left a large gap between the two sides.
Still, following two days of meetings with Kim at the lavish Metropole hotel in downtown Hanoi, Trump continued to lavish praise on Kim. He called him a great leader and boasted about the warmth of their friendship.
Trump did not address Kim’s record of brutality and human rights atrocities during his Vietnam trip.
Analysts have said Trump’s strategy of engaging Kim was risky, given that U.S. intelligence officials have said the North Korean leader is unlikely to surrender an arsenal that is thought to include anywhere between 20 and 65 nuclear warheads.
Although Trump has pointed to a moratorium on testing that has been in place since November 2017, U.S. intelligence has discovered evidence that the North has sought to conceal its weapons programs despite publicly engaging with the United States and South Korea in denuclearization talks.
Administration officials, led by the State Department, had worked over the past two weeks to try to nail down specific commitments from Pyongyang to advance the process, but progress has been slow, according to U.S. and South Korean officials familiar with the talks.
Sitting beside Kim on Thursday morning, Trump said the pair had enjoyed very good discussions over dinner the night before, with “a lot of great ideas being thrown about,” adding that “importantly, I think the relationship is, you know, just very strong.”
“And when you have a good relationship, a lot of good things happen. So, I can’t speak necessarily for today, but I can say this that, a little bit longer-term, and over a period of time, I know we’re going to have a fantastic success with respect to Chairman Kim and North Korea.”
Trump repeatedly stressed there was ”no rush” to make a deal. ”Chairman Kim and myself, we want to do the right deal. Speed is not important,” he said.
And Kim said he was ready to denuclearize, at least in principle. “If I’m not willing to do that, I wouldn’t be here right now,” he said through an interpreter.
Both Kim and Trump also said they would welcome the idea of opening a U.S. liaison office in the North Korean capital. Washington does not have direct diplomatic representation in Pyongyang.
Asked if he was confident the pair would reach a deal, Kim was equally guarded.
“It’s too early to tell. I won’t prejudge,” Kim said in reply to the question from a Washington Post reporter, a rare response from a North Korean leader to an independent journalist. “From what I feel right now, I do have a feeling that good results will come.”
While the Trump Administration and the North Koreans will likely try to put the best face possible on the outcome of the summit, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the meeting was, in the end, a diplomatic failure but it’s one that could have been anticipated from the beginning. As I’ve said repeatedly in the past, the ordinary procedure for summit meetings of this type is that the hard work of actually hammering out an agreement is something that takes place long before the meeting between leaders takes place and that the summit meeting is typically held for the purpose of both finalizing that agreement and agreeing on the next step in the process. This was largely the procedure that was followed during the Cold War with the summits between the President of the United States and whoever happened to be the leader of the Soviet Union at the time. In this case, while there have been discussions going on at lower levels since the Singapore Summit it has been clear for some time that the two sides were still very far apart on fundamental issues, especially on the question of what “denuclearization” means and what the terms for any progress on that issue might be. Without an agreement on those fundamental issues, it was unlikely from the start that the parties would walk away from Hanoi with an agreement of any kind.
Heading into the summit, there was talk that this second meeting between the two leaders would result in some sort of “grand bargain” that would resolve many of the outstanding issues between the two nations, but the President’s own advisers began downplaying expectations for the meeting in the days before it occurred. There was also some speculation that the meeting could have resulted in an agreement to finally negotiate a formal peace treaty ending the Korean War to replace what effectively is just a cease-fire that has lasted for the past sixty-six years. Such an agreement, though, would require the participation of the other combatants involved in the war, namely South Korea and China. Therefore, any such agreement was at best aspirational. At a fundamental level, though, it was clear that the President walked away from Hanoi without an agreement of any kind, or any kind of indication of where things go from here with respect to the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which is far less than what he likely desired. In that respect, the summit has to be cataloged as a failure.
While there was no additional agreement between the two leaders, there were some reports that the United States was prepared to drop demands for a full accounting of the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs:
U.S. negotiators are no longer demanding that North Korea agree to disclose a full accounting of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs as part of talks this week between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, according to current and former senior U.S. officials.
The decision to drop, for now, a significant component of a potential nuclear deal suggests a reality that U.S. intelligence assessments have stressed for months is shaping talks as they progress: North Korea does not intend to fully denuclearize, which is the goal Trump set for his talks with Kim.
Disclosure of a full, verifiable declaration of North Korea’s programs is the issue over which the last round of serious negotiations between Pyongyang and world powers, including the U.S., fell apart a decade ago.
Negotiations between U.S. and North Korean officials in advance of Trump and Kim’s second summit, which begins Wednesday nightover dinner in Hanoi, have focused heavily on a core component of Pyongyang’s program, the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, officials said. Dr. Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist who has visited the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center numerous times to assess the country’s capabilities, said dismantling elements of the facility would be the most significant step North Korea could take toward denuclearization.
“Yongbyon is the heart of North Korea’s nuclear program,” Hecker said, explaining that completely dismantling the reactor there would be critical and would mean North Korea would never be able to make plutonium there again.
Current and former U.S. officials note that North Korea has other sites with similar capabilities, however, and they are raising concerns that Pyongyang won’t negotiate on all aspects of its weapons programs if it’s not forced to disclose them.
In recent months researchers have discovered that North Korea has as many as 20 undisclosed ballistic missile sites, according to Beyond Parallel, a project sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a defense think tank. One of the sites is the Sino-ri Missile Base about 130 miles north of the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea, where about 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed
North Korea hasn’t launched a missile test since engaging diplomatically with the U.S. last year, but it has continued to otherwise refine and advance its nuclear weapons program in the months since Trump first met with Kim last June in Singapore, U.S. officials have said.
If these reports are true, then I suppose one can say that it’s better to have walked away from the summit with no agreement than to have reached a bad agreement. In that respect, an agreement that would have allowed the North Koreans to continue to hide certain aspects of their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs while at the same time claiming that progress had been made on “denuclearization” would have been a bad agreement. That being said, we’re effectively in the same place we were after the Singapore Summit, and as I said in my post prior to the start of the summit, the North Koreans have continued to engage in the development of nuclear weapons at secret facilities that they are not granting us access to or even acknowledging at this point.
In the end, though, it appears that this second summit meeting was no more of a success than the first one was. The North Koreans will continue to maintain their existing nuclear weapons stockpile, they will continue developing additional weapons, and they will continue to develop the missiles capable of delivering them to targets in Hawaii and the American West. As we did in Singapore, all we ended up with was another meeting in which we got essentially nothing while Kim Jong Un once again was able to get himself elevated on the world stage yet again. So the meeting was arguably a success for Kim in that regard. Going forward, the question is what kind of follow-up we see in the wake of this meeting. If all we get are the pro forma meetings between lower-level officials that we saw after Singapore, then this entire meeting will likely go down in history as yet another diplomatic failure on the part of the Trump Administration.