The nuclear summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un collapsed Thursday after the two sides failed to reach a deal due to a standoff over U.S. sanctions on the reclusive nation, a dispiriting end to high-stakes meetings meant to disarm a global threat.
“Sometimes you have to walk,” Trump explained, adding that he had a proposed agreement that was “ready to be signed.” “I’d much rather do it right than do it fast,” the president said. “We’re in position to do something very special.”
Mere hours after both nations seemed hopeful of a deal, Trump’s and Kim’s motorcades roared away from the downtown Hanoi summit site within minutes of each other, the leaders’ lunch canceled and a signing ceremony scuttled. The president’s closing news conference was hurriedly moved up and he departed for Washington more than two hours ahead of schedule.
The disintegration of talks came after Trump and Kim had appeared to be ready to inch toward normalizing relations between their still technically-warring nations and as the American leader tamped down expectations that their negotiations would yield an agreement by North Korea to take concrete steps toward ending its nuclear program.
In something of a role reversal, Trump had deliberately ratcheted down some of the pressure on Pyongyang, abandoning his fiery rhetoric and declaring he wanted the “right deal” over a rushed agreement. For his part, Kim, when asked whether he was ready to denuclearize, said “If I’m not willing to do that I won’t be here right now.”
The breakdown denied Trump a much-needed victory amid growing domestic turmoil back home, including congressional testimony this week by his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who called Trump a “racist” and “conman” and claimed prior knowledge of foreign powers’ efforts to help Trump win in 2016.
Trump insisted his relations with Kim remained warm, but did not commit to having a third summit with the North Korean leader, saying a possible next meeting “may not be for a long time.” Though both he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said significant progress had been made in Hanoi, the two sides appeared to be galaxies apart on an agreement that would live up to the U.S.’ stated goals.
“Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that,” Trump told reporters. Kim, he explained, appeared willing to close his country’s main nuclear facility, the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, if the sanctions were lifted. But that would leave him with missiles, warheads and weapon systems, Pompeo said. There are also suspected hidden nuclear fuel production sites around the country.