HANOI — President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un abruptly cut short their two-day summit here Thursday after the two leaders failed to reach an agreement to dismantle that country’s nuclear weapons.
Although Kim said he was ready in principle to denuclearize, his talks with Trump collapsed unexpectedly as the two men and their delegations departed their meeting site in Vietnam’s capital city without sitting for a planned lunch and or participating in a signing ceremony.
Trump said he felt he had to “walk” from the negotiating table, in part because Kim wanted the United States to lift economic sanctions on North Korea in their entirety.
“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.”
At a news conference before he planned to depart Vietnam to return to Washington, Trump zeroed in on a key sticking point in his talks with Kim.
“It was about the sanctions,” the president 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.”
For Trump, the surprising turn of events amounted to a diplomatic failure after he had hoped his second summit with Kim, following their meeting last summer in Singapore, would produce demonstrable progress toward North Korea’s denuclearization.
Secretary of State Mike 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.”
In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “The two leaders discussed various ways to advance denuclearization and economic driven concepts. No agreement was reached at this time, but their respective teams look forward to meeting in the future.”
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.”
Kim also said the whole world was watching them.
“There would be people welcoming, and people viewing our meeting with skepticism, but there would also be people who would look at us spending a great time together, like a scene in a fantasy movie,” he said.
On Wednesday night, Trump offered a public embrace of Kim, referring to the authoritarian ruler as “my friend” and stating that he is “satisfied” with the progress of their negotiations.
“Some people would like to see it be quicker. I’m satisfied; you’re satisfied,” Trump told Kim before a private, one-on-one meeting, followed by a social dinner with a small group of aides at the luxurious, five-star Metropole hotel. “We want to be happy with what we’re doing.”
Trump said he believed their first summit, in Singapore, was a success and added that their meetings in Hanoi “will be equal to or greater than the first.” He held up Vietnam as a model for economic growth for North Korea, which he said has “unlimited” potential.
“I look forward to watching it happen, and we will help it happen,” Trump said, sitting next to Kim in front of a row of American and North Korean flags. The president wore a dark suit and striped tie, while Kim wore his traditional Mao-style suit. The North Korean leader smiled as Trump spoke.
On Thursday morning, Trump and Kim arrived in separate motorcades for the second day of summit talks at the hotel. After speaking to reporters seated in front of U.S. and North Korea flags, they strolled briefly through the hotel, pausing to chat briefly with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, by the pool.
Trump’s warm greeting of Kim on Wednesday night suggested that the president was hopeful that their personal rapport can help bridge gaps in the negotiations among lower-level aides ahead of the summit. Trump said the biggest area of progress since Singapore was their “relationship,” and in a tweet after the dinner he said the two had “very good dialogue.”
The dinner of grilled sirloin and chocolate lava cake was an attempt to continue to foster trust ahead of a series of meetings Thursday during which the two sides will attempt to lock down the terms of an agreement. U.S. negotiators are seeking detailed commitments from Pyongyang to dismantle at least some of its nuclear weapons facilities, while Kim’s regime wants relief from punishing economic sanctions and a declaration to formally end the Korean War.
At the dinner, Pompeo and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney joined Trump and Kim, along with two senior North Korean aides, Kim Yong Chol and Ri Yong Ho, and two interpreters.
Kim smiled warmly as the two men shook hands, but looked uncomfortable in the glare of television cameras and the loud clicking of shutters from photographers. He praised Trump for his “extraordinary and courageous political decision” that allowed their reunion to take place after 261 days and hinted that he had his own doubters to overcome at home.
But if there was one thing the two men agreed on, it was that this summit was going to be a success. “Disbelief and misunderstandings were everywhere, and old hostile habits were getting in our way, but we’ve overcome it well, come face to face and walked all the way to Hanoi in 260 days,” Kim Jong Un said in the photo op with Trump. “I think it’s been a time period that took me more agony, effort and patience than ever. I am confident a great result will be produced this time to be welcomed by everyone, and I will do my best toward that goal.”
White House aides have said the president is determined to sell Kim on a vision of modernization and present him with a choice between continued isolation or burgeoning economic growth if he gives up the North’s nuclear weapons program.
Trump made his economic pitch to Kim during their first summit in Singapore last summer, showing him a four-minute video produced by the White House that interspersed images with war and destruction with gleaming hyper-modern cityscapes. Kim, in his mid-30s, has said in public addresses that he is focused on improving the North Korean economy, which has suffered under decades of international economic sanctions for the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs — and the regime’s corrupt governance.
Analysts have said Trump’s strategy is risky, given that U.S. intelligence officials have said Kim 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, have 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.
The United States is said to be seeking a detailed timeline and verification process for Pyongyang to close its primary nuclear processing facility at Yongbyon — but North Korean negotiators have resisted agreeing to specifics.
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