“Sometimes,” Donald Trump remarked in Hanoi, “you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.” The Hanoi summit came to a surprising and sudden end overnight as talks collapsed between Trump and Kim Jong-un. While Trump spoke warmly about his counterpart, he insisted that he wouldn’t take a bad deal just to get a signing ceremony. “They wanted the sanctions lifted in entirety, and we couldn’t do that,” Trump told the media about his decision to end the talks:
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 the 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.”
“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.”
That was a reference to decommissioning the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, the one significant concession Kim made at the talks. If that sounds familiar, it should. His father claimed to have decommissioned Yongbyon twenty years ago but covertly reactivated it and produced the fissile material that went into North Korea’s first warheads. The US knows that Kim has other facilities producing enriched uranium, which makes closing Yongbyon an incremental step at best. Kim refused to negotiate an end to all uranium enrichment.
That belied Kim’s earlier answer to a reporter’s question about his intentions. Asked if he was truly willing to denuclearize, Kim responded, “If I’m not willing to do that, I won’t be here right now.” Clearly Kim isn’t willing to denuclearize entirely, at least not on the first or second bid.
And so Trump comes home “empty-handed,” as Time Magazine puts it. That may not be the worst outcome, and it certainly wasn’t the outcome Trump’s critics expected. Susan Rice predicted that Trump would “cave” to Kim in order to get a deal for purely political reasons, which is a bit rich coming from an Obama administration official after the execrable Iran deal. Perhaps Trump’s resolve surprised Kim as well. If so, this might bode well for the next round of talks and prospects of a beneficial deal for both sides.