Trump-Kim summit breaks down, US president says 'sometimes you have to walk'

Trump reacts during a news conference after his summit with Kim, at the JW Marriott Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam on Feb 28, 2019. – Reuters

HANOI (Bloomberg): US president Donald Trump's second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un collapsed Thursday (Feb 28) without an agreement, plunging future talks on North Korea's nuclear programme into question.

"Sometimes you have to walk," Trump said at a press conference here after negotiations ended early, though he also said "we had a really, I think, productive time.

"It was about the sanctions. Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn't do that," Trump said.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the United States asked Kim "to do more. He was unprepared to do that."

"We just felt it wasn't appropriate to sign an agreement today," Trump said.

Neither Trump or Pompeo said specifically what Kim refused to do, but the president indicated the North Korean leader wouldn't agree to proceed as far toward abandoning his nuclear programme as the United States demanded in exchange for sanctions relief.

Trump said Kim had offered to dismantle North Korea's main nuclear facility at Yongbyon, but "it wasn't enough."

Pompeo said even without Yongbyon, the country would still possess missiles, warheads and other elements of a nuclear programme that were unacceptable to the United States.

"I want to take off the sanctions so badly because I want that country to grow," Trump said, "But they had to give up more."

The president did not rule out future talks, and said the summit ended amicably with a handshake before the two leaders left the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel.

"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.

"I could have signed an agreement today and then you people would have said, 'Oh, what a terrible deal'," Trump told reporters.

The two leaders "had very good and constructive meetings in Hanoi," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Thursday.

They "discussed various ways to advance denuclearisation and economic driven concepts. No agreement was reached at this time, but their respective teams look forward to meeting in the future."

Trump said he has not committed to another summit with Kim and that he would call the leaders of South Korea and Japan from Air Force One after he leaves Hanoi.

Trump and Kim departed the Metropole separately before 1:30pm local time (2.30pm in Kuala Lumpur).

Trump moved his news conference up to 2pm local time, two hours ahead of schedule, Sanders told reporters in Hanoi.

The leaders had earlier planned to sign a joint agreement at 2pm, following a working lunch.

It is not clear if the lunch proceeded as scheduled; reporters were ushered from the dining room at the hotel before seeing Trump, Kim or their aides following a morning of private meetings.

Asian stocks extended declines along with US futures after the US-North Korea summit ended without any ceremony. South Korean assets dropped and the yen advanced.

Thursday's summit was not the first time Trump abruptly left an international gathering.

Last year, the US president skipped meetings on climate change and green energy at the G7 summit in Canada to leave early for his first summit with Kim in Singapore.

The president has also quickly ended talks he felt were unproductive, most recently during negotiations with congressional Democrats over a government spending bill.

A former South Korean nuclear negotiator said Trump was right to abandon the summit if he decided it was unpromising.

"No agreement is better than a bad agreement," said former negotiator Chun Yungwoo, who is chairman of the Korean Peninsula Future Forum.

The tone of the summit changed as abruptly as the schedule. Trump had earlier downplayed expectations of a breakthrough in the nuclear talks, stalled for months after the leaders' first summit in Singapore.

But he told reporters during meetings in the morning that the negotiations had been "very productive" and said "the relationship is as good as it's ever been."

For his part, Kim publicly said he was willing to denuclearise, in answer to a question from a US reporter – the first time he is known to have taken questions from American journalists.

He also said that the United States and North Korea establishing respective diplomatic offices in each other's countries would be a "welcome idea," without committing to it.

"There are people remaining sceptical 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.

"Let me assure you, I will do all my best to bring a good result ultimately," he added.

But Trump has for sometime said he is not in a hurry to cut a deal with Pyongyang, which is under heavy US sanctions in response to Kim's nuclear weapons and missile tests.

"Speed's not that important to me," Trump said as the pair sat down for talks at the Metropole. "No rush. We just want to do the right deal."

The summit was organised 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. – Bloomberg

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