Dashing all expectations of progress in denuclearisation or ending the Korean War, the second summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un broke down amid talks on Thursday, after the US refused North Korean demands for sanctions relief.
“It was all about the sanctions,” the US president told reporters before leaving for Washington in a haste Thursday afternoon.”They wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety and we couldn’t do that.”
Kim has not yet responded to this sudden turn of events. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has called the breakdown of talks “regrettable” but admitted that bilateral relations between the US and North Korea have never made “more meaningful progress than at any time prior”.
Here’s what happened
At the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, the summit kicked off with both leaders getting along together on Wednesday, with a 30-minute one-on-one sit-down and a private dinner.
The next day, however, North Korea tabled demands and conditions that the US was not prepared to reciprocate. Kim reportedly promised to dismantle all of the Yongbyon complex — the research and production facility at the heart of North Korea’s nuclear programme — in exchange for the US lifting all sanctions on the Asian country.
No plans had been made for a third summit yet.
The original White House programme had originally consisted of a “joint agreement signing ceremony” as the world awaited declaration to end the Korean War. But the summit ended abruptly with Trump’s address to a news conference outside the Metropole Hotel.
“Sometimes you have to walk and this was one of those times,” he said as the summit ended early.
Kim driving a hard bargain
After their historic but inconclusive meeting last year, Trump and Kim met for the second time on February 27, for a two-day summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. The summit sequel came after eight months of the first one in Singapore when Kim had signed off on an agreement to deescalate its denuclearisation programme.
Shortly afterward, the US suddenly promised to suspend military exercises with longtime ally South Korea, touted as a premature move by many, considering the lack of concrete proof of the North actually making good on its promise.
This had made analysts wary of Trump’s eagerness to reach an agreement, which they feared would lead to the US making valuable concessions to North Korea without substantial gains in return.
Last month, the US state department reported that North Korea had committed in pre-summit talks, to destroy all of its plutonium- and uranium-enrichment facilities, contingent on unspecified US measures in return. These measures appear now to have been complete sanctions relief.
Trump on Thursday told reporters that in return for complete sanctions, Kim has offered only the destruction of Yongbyon and not North Korea’s entire nuclear apparatus, which includes facilities that extend beyond Yongbyon. The North Korean delegation appeared “surprised,” according to Trump, at the US’s knowledge about the other facilities.
What the summit should have focused on
Although denuclearisation was the primary goal, the backdrop to the talks was set by the US intelligence community’s assessment that North Korea is unlikely to ever agree to abandon its nuclear programme since its leaders view nukes as critical to regime survival.
That assessment had left the US president infuriated and red-faced. But once again, both sides have failed to come up with a common definition for ‘denuclearisation’ which has to be the first step in the peace process.
Furthermore, North Korea must allow international inspection of the missile and nuclear test sites it has already started dismantling. Allowing international inspectors, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in particular, back into Yongbyon, would be a much more significant step.
The Associated Press had reported before the summit that a declaration calling an end to the Korean hostilities was probably on the cards. The Korea War dates back to 1950 and was suspended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. Furthermore, a declaration that the war was finally over would have enormous symbolic importance for both Koreas.
Impact of this failure
It is this that Trump has been chasing to win the coveted
But for the US, with its negotiating points in disarray, the Hanoi summit can prove to be a crucial turning point in terms of diminishing dominance over the region in due course.
According to the BBC, the failure to achieve any of the above will be viewed as a setback, especially for the self-styled deal-maker who is infamous for winging diplomatic negotiations and who has talked up his historic rapprochement with Kim as a “significant policy achievement.”
Trump has repeatedly claimed that his diplomatic
Trump’s shifting stance and strategies
Trump had said last month that he would be happy with a halt on missile testing, adding he doesn’t want to rush anything. Several members of the Trump administration including his foreign policy advisors are not on board with his “no rush policy”, believing “we actually need to move very quickly in this process.”
As the two leaders walked into the meeting room on Wednesday, Trump had reportedly said he will continue to insist on denuclearisation. At least, he has kept up that end of the bargain.
Human rights abuses: A peripheral goal
Trump has been widely
Raising the case of Otto Warmbier with Kim, Trump reportedly believed the North Korean leader’s assurances that he knew nothing of the atrocious treatment against the 22-year-old American student.
“Some really bad things happened to Otto – some really really bad things. But he [Kim] tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word,” Trump said of Warmbier, who was arrested for holding up a propaganda poster during a visit to Pyongyang in January 2016. He had been sentenced to 15 years of hard
According to the international community and human rights groups, North Korea is among the world’s worst human rights abusers, with an estimated 80,000 – 120,000 political prisoners and a history of murder, torture, and sexual violence perpetrated against its citizens.
The summit coincided with an increase in scrutiny over Trump’s business dealings and alleged ties to
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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