President Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un came to an abrupt and early end without a deal between the two countries on Thursday. During a press conference after talks concluded in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, Trump described them as a “very productive time.” However, the president also said that he “felt that it wasn’t a good thing to be signing” an agreement.
“It was … a very interesting two days, and I think, actually, it was a very productive two days,” Trump said. “But sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.”
The press conference was hastily moved up by nearly two hours when the talks concluded. A schedule for Thursday that was released by the White House on Wednesday showed a “joint agreement signing ceremony” had been planned and canceled. A “working lunch” between the two leaders was also scrapped.
Trump said the failure to reach a deal stemmed from disagreements over U.S. sanctions against North Korea.
“It was about the sanctions. … Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that,” Trump said. “They were willing to de-nuke a large portion of the areas that we wanted, but we couldn’t give up all of the sanctions.”
Trump later added that Kim Jong Un was only willing to denuclearize “areas that are less important than the ones that we want.”
The summit in Hanoi was the second meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un, following a summit in Singapore last June. He is the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader since 1948, when the Korean Peninsula was divided and Kim’s family established a Stalinist regime. For most of the ensuing 70 years, the U.S. has technically been at war with North Korea, because the Korean War ended in 1953 with an armistice rather than a formal peace treaty.
At the summit in Singapore last year, Trump and Kim signed a joint statement that promised a “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” However, that agreement did not include any specifics about what that process might look like, and the two sides define “denuclearization” very differently.
Since then, a report released by the U.S. intelligence community predicted North Korea is “unlikely” to give up its weapons of mass destruction. The report also said U.S. intelligence has observed “activity inconsistent with full denuclearization” in North Korea.
In Hanoi, Trump dismissed the idea that North Korea’s arsenal is expanding.
“Some people … are saying that and some people are denying that. They have shots from above, way above,” said Trump.
Trump was asked whether he would ultimately be willing to allow Kim to keep “some nukes” and he was noncommittal while insisting progress has been made.
“I don’t want to comment on that exactly, but he has a certain vision and it’s not exactly our vision, but it’s a lot closer than it was a year ago,” Trump said of Kim.
While he said a third summit has not been planned, Trump repeatedly expressed optimism that an agreement would eventually be reached and that the two countries were “positioned to do something very special.” Trump touted his relationship with Kim, saying it was “very friendly” despite the early exit from the summit.
“This wasn’t a walk-away like you get up and walk out. … We shook hands,” Trump said, adding, “There’s a warmth that we have now. I hope that stays. I think it will.”
The president’s appearance was a clear contrast from his meeting with Kim in Singapore where he predicted total denuclearization would begin “very quickly.” When he landed, he declared on Twitter: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”
Trump claimed Thursday that he “could have 100 percent signed something today,” adding that papers were “ready to be signed, but it just wasn’t appropriate.”
“I‘d much rather do it right than do it fast,” he said.
Overall, the president framed the lack of a deal as a solid strategic move.
“You always have to be prepared to walk,” Trump said. “I could have signed an agreement today and then you people would have said, ‘Oh, what a terrible deal.’ No, you have to be prepared to walk.”
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