- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2019

HANOI, Vietnam — President Trump’s high-stakes summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ended abruptly without a deal Thursday, cutting short two days of talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s weapons program and leaving the two sides with a murky and uncertain path ahead.

In the stunning outcome in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, the two sides disagreed over what led to the breakdown and whether and when new talks can be arranged. Mr. Trump said he expected his extraordinary personal diplomacy with Mr. Kim to end the crisis on the divided Korean Peninsula will continue.

To the surprise of supporters and detractors back home, Mr. Trump proved willing to walk away from a diplomatic breakthrough that he clearly craved. He said he ended the private talks two hours early when Mr. Kim insisted that all international economic sanctions be dropped before the North agrees to shutter its nuclear and missile programs.

“Sometimes you have to walk,” Mr. Trump explained at a subdued closing news conference. Mr. Trump said he rejected a more modest agreement that was “ready to be signed,” and a signing ceremony and celebratory lunch that were on the two leaders’ schedules were quickly scrubbed.

“I’d much rather do it right than do it fast …,” Mr. Trump said. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters as he flew to the Philippines from Vietnam on Thursday, “We were hoping we could take another big swing when the two leaders got together.

“We made some progress, but we didn’t get as far as we would have hoped we would have gotten,” Mr. Pompeo said.

But in a sign of possible trouble ahead, North Korea’s top diplomat held a rare press briefing of his own to challenge Mr. Trump’s version of events. He said Mr. Kim had not made the maximalist demands that Mr. Trump described.

Even as the U.S. delegation was jetting home on Air Force One, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho insisted that Pyongyang had asked only for a partial easing of the sanctions in exchange for shutting down the North’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon. Mr. Ri said the North was also ready to offer in writing a permanent halt of the country’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and that Washington had wasted an opportunity that “may not come again.”

Mr. Pompeo predicted that lower-level diplomacy between the two sides could resume quickly, but Pyongyang challenged even that. North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui told reporters that Mr. Kim was finding it difficult to understand why the U.S. left the talks and that the young North Korean leader “may have lost his will” to continue the talks.

Discordant note

Mr. Trump said the end of the talks was amicable. He even offered a sort of defense of Mr. Kim over the death of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier, who succumbed to severe illness shortly after his release from a North Korean prison in June 2017.

Mr. Trump once cited Warmbier’s treatment as a symbol of the human rights failings of the Kim regime, but he said Thursday that the North Korean leader told him he had not been aware of the Ohio college student’s case.

Mr. Kim “tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,” Mr. Trump said.

Those comments struck a discordant note in the generally positive assessment in Washington of Mr. Trump’s handling of the summit.

“We must remember Otto, and we should never let North Korea off the hook for what they did to him,” Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, said in a statement.

But ending the summit without agreement on any of the issues discussed clearly fell short of expectations. Negotiators on both sides had spent months in talks leading up to the summit, trying to pave the way for an agreement that also could have included a declaration to formally end the Korean War or the opening of a U.S. liaison office in Pyongyang.

The stunning result divided analysts who said Mr. Trump had already taken a huge gamble in agreeing to meet with the reclusive North Korean leader and holding a one-on-negotiating session with so many key items still unresolved.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who is usually a fierce critic of the president, said Mr. Trump “did the right thing by walking away and not cutting a poor deal for the sake of a photo op.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, also said Mr. Trump was right not to take a bad deal, but she argued that Mr. Kim was the “big winner” for having secured two personal summits with an American president and easing his country’s pariah status without having made any significant concessions.

Some said Mr. Trump may have enhanced his bargaining position by showing the North Koreans and a watching world that he was willing to risk short-term setbacks to achieve his long-term goals. North Korea’s hopes for an easing of its economic isolation — and even a possible formal ending to the stalemated Korean War of the 1950s — were dashed with Mr. Trump’s decision to walk away.

The summit result was clearly a setback for South Korea, which has pursued its own rapprochement with Pyongyang and hoped a U.S.-North Korean detente would speed along that process. Mr. Trump spoke with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the flight home from Hanoi, the White House said.

Mr. Moon’s office said in a statement that it regretted the outcome of the summit but expressed a firm commitment to continue North-South negotiations.

South Korean officials said Mr. Moon encouraged Mr. Trump to continue his efforts for accomplishing the “historic feat of resolving the world’s last remaining Cold War rivalry” and that the two leaders agreed to meet soon to discuss the nuclear issue, The Associated Press reported.

China, North Korea’s longtime key ally, refused to assign blame for the Hanoi summit. Officials said Mr. Trump’s diplomatic gambit was a positive step and that the U.S. and North Korea must “meet each other halfway” if a deal is to be struck.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters that the Korean Peninsula had experienced a significant “turnaround” over the past year, a “hard-won result” that is worth cherishing.

Smiles and setbacks

After a friendly dinner Wednesday night in Hanoi and talks that Mr. Trump described as “very good,” the discussions rapidly fell apart Thursday.

The two leaders canceled a formal working lunch, and the White House soon announced a “schedule change.” Word soon came down that the joint signing ceremony with both leaders was canceled.

The second summit between the two men began with smiles and handshakes Wednesday as Mr. Trump sought more clarity from the North Korean leader on the steps he would be willing to take to dismantle his nuclear weapons program. They started that process at a breakthrough summit in Singapore in June.

Mr. Trump was lowering expectations for the second round of talks, cautioning the media that he was in “no rush” to get a comprehensive agreement as long as Mr. Kim continued to honor his pledge not to conduct any more missile tests.

Asked whether he was serious about giving up his weapons program, Mr. Kim had said, “If I was not, I wouldn’t be here.”

Another reporter asked whether he was willing to take concrete steps to denuclearize. Mr. Kim said: “That’s what we are discussing right now.”

⦁ David R. Sands reported from Washington for this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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