President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, abruptly ended their second summit meeting Thursday when negotiations collapsed after the two sides failed to agree on even the first steps toward nuclear disarmament, a peace declaration or reducing sanctions on the North.
“It was about the sanctions,” Trump said at an afternoon news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, referring to Kim’s demand that the United States lift harsh economic sanctions imposed on North Korea with the approval of the United Nations. “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that.”
The premature end to the negotiations means the diplomacy between the United States and North Korea that has gone on for most of a year remains stalled, even as experts say North Korea continues to produce fissile material to make nuclear warheads.
Trump said that Kim had agreed to take an important step toward dismantling a central part of his nuclear program — the Yongbyon enrichment facility — but that Kim said he would do so only if all sanctions were lifted.
The president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the North would have to dismantle other weapons systems before all sanctions were lifted. They added that the two sides would continue negotiations in other settings and stressed that there were nuclear sites the Americans were aware of that were unknown to the public.
Trump had flown across the world to try to work face-to-face with Kim for the second time on the signature diplomatic initiative of his presidency, an effort to reduce what U.S. officials regard as one of the world’s foremost nuclear threats. Experts estimate that the North has 30 to 60 nuclear warheads and possibly a ballistic missile that can hit the continental United States.
If, as Trump said, Kim insisted that the United States lift all economic sanctions in exchange for just the dismantlement of Yongbyon, that was a severe misreading of U.S. strategy. U.S. officials have said that the sanctions are their main leverage with North Korea and that keeping them tight is critical to the goal of full denuclearization.