The surprise conclusion of this week’s second DPRK-U.S. summit with no deal was caused by disagreement between the two countries over sanctions relief, President Donald Trump said in a press conference on Thursday.
Speaking to international press following talks with Kim Jong Un which abruptly came to an end, President Trump said the North Koreans had “wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.”
DPRK negotiators had been willing to take some steps to denuclearize, the President said, but in “areas that are less important than what we want.”
The breakdown of the summit, he stressed, “was about sanctions.”
“They wanted sanctions lifted but they weren’t willing to do an area we wanted. They were willing to give us areas, but not the ones we wanted.”
The U.S. could have done a deal, Trump explained, but had concluded it would not have been worthwhile.
“We just felt it wasn’t appropriate to sign an agreement today… we could have, but I just felt it wasn’t very appropriate,” he emphasized.
“You always have to be prepared to walk,” he later said.
The proposal by the North Koreans had not “made sense for the United States of America,” added Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who joined the President at the conference.
“I think Chairman Kim was hopeful that we would. We asked him to do more,” Pompeo said. “He was unprepared to do that. But I’m still optimistic.”
“I think everyone had hoped we could do it just a little bit better.”
That it was sanctions issues that scuppered the second Kim-Trump summit is notable, with North Korea having in recent months stepped up calls for their removal.
January saw DPRK state-run media warn the Trump administration that it “may inevitably face the consequence that is difficult to bear if the U.S. pushes our patience to the limit,” by adhering to its policy of sanctions and pressure.
Secretary of State Pompeo on Sunday insisted that the “core economic sanctions… are definitely going to remain in place” until Pyongyang fully denuclearizes.
He referred to sanctions that “prevent countries from conducting trade, creating wealth for North Korea,” while appearing to suggest that some could be relaxed should Pyongyang take substantial steps towards denuclearization.
Thursday’s post-summit press conference saw President Trump insist that the current sanctions regime will stay in place, he said, while adding he did not want to “talk about increasing sanctions.”
Kim Jong Un has in the meantime committed to continue a moratorium on missiles and nuclear testing in place since April last year, the President said.
“He’s not gonna do testing of rockets and nuclear, not gonna do testing, so you know I trust him and I take him at his word,” Trump said. “I hope that’s true, but in the meantime we’ll be talking.”
On denuclearization, Trump said Kim Jong Un was “willing” to take steps to decommission his country’s Yongbyon nuclear facility, but had asked for concessions in response that the U.S. was not willing to give.
“He wants the sanctions for that, and as you know there’s plenty left after that, and I just felt it wasn’t good,” he explained.
“We had to have more than that,” he continued, adding the U.S. had discovered many more facilities that would also need to be dismantled.
North Korea previously expressed its willingness to carry out the “permanent dismantlement of the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon” during an inter-Korean summit last September, but only if the U.S. offered “corresponding measures.”
In that same inter-Korean declaration, Pyongyang also agreed to “permanently dismantle” its Tongchang-ri missile engine test site under the observation of experts.
The President also reiterated his argument that North Korea stands to have great economic potential should the country denuclearize.
“I think he’s got a chance to have one of the most successful countries, rapidly, too, on earth,” he said.
“[It’s an] incredible country, incredible location… you have on one side Russia and China, and on the other you have South Korea, and you’re surrounded by water, and among the most beautiful shorelines in the world.”
It was for this reason, the President said, that he wants “to take off the sanctions so badly.”
“Because I want that country to grow… That country has so much potential, but we had to give up that deal.”
In response to a question from NK News regarding the future of inter-Korean relations and the limits placed on current North-South economic cooperation by international sanctions, Trump said he would talk to South Korean President Moon Jae-in “very soon.”
The U.S. President also reiterated his view that he and Kim Jong Un have a close relationship, saying that the mood in the negotiating room was not bad.
“I think the relationship was very warm and when we walked away, it was a very friendly walk,” he said.
While no mention was made of human rights, he was asked by press about whether he had raised the fate of Otto Warmbier – a U.S. student who died shortly after returning from 17 months imprisonment in the DPRK – with Kim Jong Un.
Trump confirmed that he had raised the case with the North Korean leader, saying he did not believe that Kim that played a role in Warmbier’s death.
“It just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen,” Trump said. “Those prisons are rough, they’re rough places and bad things happened. But I really don’t believe that he was – I don’t believe he knew about it.”
The two leaders began their second summit on Wednesday evening, with a one-on-one meeting followed by a dinner with top officials.
The meeting represented the second between the two leaders in less than a year, coming eight-and-a-half months after their first meeting at Singapore’s Sentosa hotel in June last year.
Questions loomed, however, over how much was going to be achieved on the critical issue of denuclearization, with a source on Wednesday telling NK News that working-level talks on the issue had not led to any agreement between the two sides.
They then met again this morning at 0855 for the second day of their second summit, holding one-on-one talks followed by an expanded meeting at 0945.
That initial meeting saw the U.S. President appear to dial down expectations for the summit, saying he was in “no rush.”
The talks appeared to be going well by midday, with a brief press availability with the two leaders seeing Kim Jong Un say he would “welcome” the establishing of U.S.-DPRK liaison offices in the two countries’ respective capitals.
But following news from the White House that a planned working lunch between the two sides had been cancelled, a planned “joint agreement signing ceremony” with the two leaders, set to take place at 1405 Hanoi time, began to appear increasingly unlikely.
The White House then announced that the summit was over, and that “no agreement” had been reached.
One expert warned against “jumping to hasty conclusions” following the abrupt end of the summit.
“A no deal summit could mean completely different things based on what happened at the negotiating table,” said Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department East Asia desk officer.
“If it came out because there were overly high demands or contradictory positions on the U.S. side, that’s a real indictment of Washington,” he continued.
“If it happened because North Korea wouldn’t agree to anything without unreasonable U.S. concessions, that tells us Pyongyang is not operating in good faith.”
President Trump is expected to depart for Washington DC this afternoon, with Kim Jong Un set to stay in Hanoi for an official state visit until Saturday.
Colin Zwirko, Chad O’Carroll, and Dagyum Ji contributed reporting
Featured image: Rodong Sinmun