US president says North Korea wanted all sanctions lifted for only partial denuclearisation, a claim disputed by Pyongyang
North Korea and the US have given differing accounts of why the second summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un ended in failure on Thursday.
The abrupt end to the Hanoi meeting, which was cut short by several hours, was a setback from both leaders who had made long journeys Kim by rail and Trump by air in the expectation that a deal was within reach. There are no plans for a third summit, but the US has expressed willingness to continue talks at a lower level.
In his version of events, Trump said the deal had broken down because Kim wanted complete sanctions relief for dismantling the main nuclear complex at Yongbyon, but the US wanted other nuclear facilities, including covert sites, disabled as well.
It was about the sanctions basically, Trump said at a press conference in Hanoi. They wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety and we couldnt do that … Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.
There is a gap. We have to have sanctions, he said. There is a gap. We have to have sanctions and he wants to denuke. But he wants to just do areas that are less important than the areas that we want.
North Korea disputed Trumps explanation. At abruptly scheduled midnight press conference in Hanoi, the North Korean foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, said Pyongyang had only demanded partial sanctions relief in return for closing Yongbyon. He said the US had wasted an opportunity that may not come again and Pyongyangs position would not change even if the US seeks further talks.
Trump however made clear that the status quo will continue, with North Korea continuing to suspend nuclear and missile tests, while the US will not take part in joint military exercises with South Korea, which the US president is opposed to anyway.
I gave that up quite a while ago because it costs us $100m to do it. I hated to see it. I thought it was unfair, Trump said, adding that South Korea should shoulder more of the costs. Exercising is fun and its nice they play their war games. Im not saying its not necessary. On some levels it is. On other levels its not.
On Friday, South Koreas president, Moon Jae-in, used a national holiday speech to try to ease any disappointment. I believe this is part of a process to reach a higher level of agreement. Now our role has become even more important, he said. My administration will closely communicate and cooperate with the United States and North Korea so as to help their talks reach a complete settlement by any means.
In a press conference after the talks broke down, Trump remained protective of the North Korean leader and the relationship between the two men. We spent all day with Kim Jong-un, he said. Hes quite a guy and quite a character. And our relationship is very strong.
He even defended Kim over the death of the US student Otto Warmbier, who was sent home from North Korea seriously ill in June 2017. He says he didnt know about it and I will take him at his word, he said.
Trump gave the most detailed public account to date of the central disagreements that have dogged the negotiations. He confirmed that the US side had confronted Pyongyang with US intelligence about covert nuclear facilities outside Yongbyon and demanded they be put on the negotiating table.
We know the country very well, every inch of that country, he said, adding that Yongbyon, while very big, wasnt enough.
We had to have more than that, because there were other things that we havent talked about, that we found, that we found a long time ago, but people didnt know about, he went on, making clear that one of the sites he was talking about was a second covert uranium enrichment programme. We brought many points up that I think they were surprised that we knew.
He said relaxing all sanctions in return for Yongbyon would been meant giving up leverage that has taken so long to build.
The collapse of the two leaders talks came suddenly. Late on Wednesday night the White House circulated detailed plans for negotiating sessions, a working lunch and a signing ceremony for a joint agreement. When the two leaders reconvened on Thursday morning, however, they appeared sombre and cautious about whether a deal was possible.
A few hours later, the summit was called off. The signing ceremony was cancelled and the official lunch left uneaten. Table settings and name cards went unused in the empty dining hall of the Metropole Hotel, the summit venue, as the leaders made their way back to their own hotels.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said the breakdown of talks was partly caused by differences over the sequences of nuclear disarmament and sanctions relief. The US wanted North Korea to put its current arsenal, thought to consist of several dozen warheads, some mounted on missiles, on the negotiating table as well, he said.
Pompeo said nuclear negotiations would resume quickly, although no new meetings have yet been scheduled.
Trump flew out of Hanoi in the late afternoon, while Kim stayed in the city for talks with the Vietnamese leadership and will make the 70-hour car and train journey back to Pyongyang at the weekend. It was unclear whether he would stop in Beijing to meet the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
Trump said he would call his regional allies, the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, as soon as he boarded Air Force One.
The breakdown of the summit is a political disaster for Moon, who had been counting on progress that would lift international sanctions restricting trade and investment between North and South Korea.
A South Korean diplomat said Seoul was stunned by the result. It was shock. We are trying to figure out what happened, the diplomat said. We need to watch what happened behind the scenes.
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