The meeting between the US and North Korean leaders in Hanoi, Vietnam ended abruptly and with conflicting versions about why the meeting unravelled.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on March 1, 2019

After the truncated summit, Donald Trump said the two parties had made progress towards denuclearisation but said the stalling point had been the conditions North Korea placed on completing the deal.

“It was all about the sanctions,” Trump said. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.”

“Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times,” Trump said, though he maintained the two nations had ended the meeting on “friendly” terms.

Disagreement on why the summit ended early

Trump said Kim had been potentially willing to shut down the nuclear complex in Yongbyon in exchange for a lifting of the sanctions, which would allow North Korea to import crucial commodities such as oil and export coal.

Yongbyon is the largest nuclear facility in North Korea. There are other facilities, including a nuclear site at Sohae. Last year, website 38 North said that satellite imagery appeared to show that site was being dismantled. It is also believed there are other sites with uranium enrichment capabilities.

The US claim that Kim sought a complete end to the US sanctions was disputed by North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, who told reporters that North Korea only sought an end to sanctions where they “related to people’s livelihoods”.

“This is the biggest denuclearisation step we can take based on the current level of trust between the two countries,” Ri told reporters.

“It’s hard to say there will be something better than what we offered. We may not have such an opportunity again. We need such a first step on the road to complete denuclearisation. Our fundamental stance will never change and even if US seeks further talks, our position won’t change.”

Reactions after the Trump-Kim meeting

Democrat Senator Ben Cardin said the summit had ultimately been “very disappointing”.

“We have now (had) two summits and we’ve gotten no declaration of their nuclear programme or commitment to end it that’s meaningful,” he told Al Jazeera. He went on to say that more US allies should be brought into the talks to help apply pressure to North Korea.

Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in the Republican party, said cutting the summit short was a good move.

“We are not looking at partial denuclearisation,” he said. “We are looking at complete denuclearisation in return for security guarantees and economic assistance and so we are not going to relieve sanctions at the beginning. We’ve tried that before.”

Sung-Yoon-Lee, a Professor of Korean Studies, told CNBC the summit had been a “flop” but that the parties would reconvene for ’round three’ of talks.

Trump sided with Kim on the death of young American Otto Warmbier

Trump also defended Kim on the death of Otto Warmbier, a US student who died after being taken into custody in North Korea for stealing a propaganda poster.

Warmbier was imprisoned in North Korea in 2015 and was returned to the US in a coma by North Korean authorities in 2017. Days later, he died. North Korean officials say he contracted brain damage by poisoning but doctors in the US found no evidence of this.

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

“It just wasn’t to (Kim’s) advantage to allow that to happen. Prisons are rough, they’re rough places, and bad things happened.”

He said Kim “felt very badly” about Warmbier’s treatment in prison and death, adding: “He knew the case very well, but he knew it later. In those prisons, those camps, you have a lot of people.”

Bill Richardson, a former Ambassador, told MSNBC that is was “totally impossible” Kim had no knowledge of what happened to Warmbier. “It is inconceivable that such a high-profile American prisoner like Otto Warmbier, that Kim Jong Un would not know,” he said.

Nikki Haley, the former US Ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted that “Americans know the cruelty that was placed on Otto Warmbier by the North Korean regime. Our hearts are with the Warmbier family for their strength and courage.”

Header image credit: US Consulate and Embassy in Vietnam