President Donald Trump said he walked out of his second summit with Kim Jong Un after the two leaders couldn’t agree on a deal to relieve North Korea of U.S. sanctions in exchange for Pyongyang giving up much of its nuclear weapons program.
Trump said Kim “wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.” In exchange, the North Korean leader had offered to dismantle its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon.
“It wasn’t enough,” the president said at a news conference after the summit collapsed.
The U.S. presented Kim with evidence of additional secret nuclear sites, surprising the North Koreans, according to Trump. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that even without Yongbyon the country would still possess missiles, warheads and other elements of a nuclear program that were unacceptable to the U.S.
“Sometimes you have to walk,” Trump told reporters. “I could have signed an agreement today and then you people would have said, ‘oh, what a terrible deal.”’
The summit’s collapse sent global stocks sliding as the future of U.S.-North Korea nuclear talks remained uncertain. While Trump said the meeting ended amicably with a handshake, he hasn’t committed to another summit with Kim.
“We just felt it wasn’t appropriate to sign an agreement today,” Trump said, adding that he was open to more talks in the future. “I want to take off the sanctions so badly because I want that country to grow. But they had to give up more.”
Pompeo said the U.S. asked Kim “to do more. He was unprepared to do that.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s spokesman called the outcome “regrettable” in a statement, but said “there has been progress that was more meaningful than any time before.” China’s foreign ministry called for both sides to continue talking.
Heading into the summit, negotiations had made little progress since the last meeting between the two leaders in Singapore. The summit was organized in Hanoi in haste after Trump announced the meeting on Feb. 8, and the White House sought to lower expectations even before the president left for Vietnam.
Pompeo, speaking to reporters on a flight from Hanoi to Manila, said the two nations haven’t set a date for the next working-level meetings. “My sense it it will take a little while,” he said.
When asked why the U.S. and North Korea didn’t agree to some of the possible steps that had been floated — such as declaring a formal end to the Korean War and setting up liaison offices to conduct diplomacy — Pompeo said: “You should not assume that we didn’t come to an agreement on a whole number of issues.” He didn’t elaborate.
Kim sees nuclear weapons as the main guarantor of his dynastic regime’s security, and wants sanctions relief in return for merely pausing his weapons program. Trump’s administration, meanwhile, has insisted Kim take real steps toward giving up his capabilities before dropping sanctions.
For many analysts, the fact that Trump refused a deal that would move North Korea closer to becoming a normalized nuclear-weapons state represented progress. A former South Korean nuclear negotiator said that Trump was right to abandon the summit if he decided it was unpromising.
“No agreement is better than a bad agreement,” said the former negotiator, Chun Yungwoo, who is chairman of the Korean Peninsula Future Forum.
The meetings at the iconic Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel started out promising, with both leaders expressing optimism.
“There are people remaining skeptical about this meeting,” Kim said in Korean in introductory remarks. “All of them will be watching this moment together as if they are watching a fantasy movie.”
Kim publicly said that he was willing to denuclearize, in answer to a question from a U.S. reporter — the first time he is known to have taken questions from American journalists. He also said that the U.S. and North Korea establishing respective diplomatic offices in each other’s countries would be a “welcome idea,” without committing to it.
But Kim also appeared to grow frustrated at the questions. “I think we can let the journalists leave now,” he told Trump.
The talks ended abruptly before a scheduled “working lunch” at the Metropole. Reporters were ushered out of a dining room prepared for the two leaders and their aides, and the White House announced there had been a schedule change. Soon after, the two leaders separately departed the hotel.
Thursday’s summit was not the first time Trump abruptly left an international gathering. Last year, the U.S. president skipped meetings on climate change and green energy at the G7 summit in Canada to leave early for his first summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore. Trump’s departure came after he publicly clashed with other world leaders over his decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
On Thursday, Trump had nice words for Kim even after the summit collapsed.
“There’s a warmth that we have,” Trump said. “We’re positioned to do something very special.”
Pompeo said “the departure was with an agreement” that the two sides would continue negotiations, and that they are “closer” to an eventual deal.
The fact that North Korea would continue to suspend weapons tests and Trump would halt military exercises showed the situation is unlikely to escalate, according to David Kim, a research analyst with the Stimson Center’s WMD, Nonproliferation, and Security program.
“As long as both Kim and Trump maintain political will to continue talks, we can expect there to be progress in the future,” Kim said. “These talks will take a long time and will far outlive this presidency.”