Trump-Kim talks break down after dispute over sanctions

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel yesterday. Mr Trump said Pyongyang was willing to denuclearise, "but in areas lesser than what we want".
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel yesterday. Mr Trump said Pyongyang was willing to denuclearise, "but in areas lesser than what we want".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Two leaders scrap working lunch, signing ceremony as they fail to reach deal on North Korea denuclearisation

United States President Donald Trump made an early departure on Air Force One for Washington yesterday after failing to reach a deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear arsenal in exchange for sanctions relief.

The two leaders had cut short the day's itinerary, scrapping a working lunch and a joint signing ceremony, and moving a press conference forward by nearly two hours.

Unlike the uncertainty of the first summit in Singapore, this second round of talks in Hanoi was widely expected to result in a more substantial and tangible agreement, including a road map to denuclearisation by North Korea, some sanctions relief by the US and a declaration to the end of the Korean War.

However, it failed to deliver.

"Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn't do that," Mr Trump told journalists at the JW Marriott Hotel Hanoi, where he was staying.

He said Pyongyang was willing to denuclearise, "but in areas lesser than what we want". While Mr Kim was willing to dismantle North Korea's main nuclear facility, Yongbyon, there were other sites the US had uncovered which Mr Trump said even North Korea was surprised it knew about.

Still, Mr Trump insisted things had not turned sour for the two former foes, and he is taking Mr Kim's word that he will not resume testing his nuclear weapons. "The relationship was very warm and when we walked away, it was a very friendly walk."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said both sides will continue to iron out their differences, but there are no plans for a third summit yet.

Asian stocks tumbled on news of the talks collapsing, with South Korean shares hardest hit.

SANCTIONS ISSUE

It was about the sanctions. Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn't do that...They were willing to denuke large portions, but we couldn't give up all sanctions for that.

U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

South Korea's presidential office said it was regrettable the second summit ended without a deal, but noted that "meaningful progress" had been made.

Still, questions have been raised over whether the US lacked preparation going into the talks, especially when both sides were so far apart in their expectations.

Ms Jean Lee, a Korea expert at the Washington-based Wilson Centre, said: "It was never going to be easy, and not even the power of two big personalities is enough to bring an end to one of the most intractable stand-offs of the modern era."

Dr Lee Seong-hyon of South Korea's Sejong Institute think-tank told The Straits Times that a third summit may be far on the horizon.

 
 
 

"This may be the end of a short-lived love affair between Trump and Kim," he said. "Despite Trump's vowing that there may be more meetings in the future, in reality, it will be very difficult for Trump to arrange another experimental summit meeting due to mounting domestic opposition as well as his weakening political standing at home. He may not be able to muster extra political energy and time to pay attention to North Korea as he is mired in scandals, and as he faces elections soon."

North Korea has not responded as to why the talks ended abruptly, but Mr Kim's travel plans are unchanged. Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said Mr Kim will begin a two-day official visit to Vietnam today and will meet President Nguyen Phu Trong on the first day.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2019, with the headline 'Trump-Kim talks break down after dispute over sanctions'. Print Edition | Subscribe