Trump says Kim Jong-un wanted sanctions lifted alonside denuclearization

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U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young - HP1EF2609Y97U

By Kim Yoo-chul, Lee Min-hyung – The Korea   Times

HANOI ― U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un failed to reach an agreement on denuclearization at their summit here in the Vietnamese capital, Thursday.

Ultimately, the breakdown of the summit “was about sanctions,” Trump said in a press conference after the meeting with Kim.

“It wasn’t a thing to be signing anything today. He (Kim Jong-un) is quite a guy, quite a character. We had some options but at this time, we decided not to do any of the options,” Trump told reporters in a hurriedly arranged press conference after holding extended talks with the North Korean leader.

“Sometimes, you have to walk. This was just of those items. Basically, they (North Korea) wanted the sanctions lifted, and we couldn’t do that. We haven’t given up anything. He wants denuclearization. He just wants to do areas that are less important than what we want.”

Ahead of the conference, the White House said in a statement that dialogue on nuclear disarmament would continue. “Their respective teams look forward to meeting in the future.” But top U.S. officials went on to say that the negotiations will take time.

The second United States-North Korea summit started with nice words as the participants exchanged goodwill gestures, raising hopes that the two countries would announce an agreement that included specific and concrete steps by North Korea to scrap its nuclear capability, and Washington providing some low-level reciprocal measures.

But a planned working lunch between the leaders was called off abruptly without any specific reasons being given, and a scheduled joint signing ceremony was also canceled.

The North Korean delegation returned to the Hanoi Melia Hotel, where Kim is staying in the presidential suite on the 22nd floor.

Sources with knowledge of the matter told The Korea Times that the failure was mostly due to stark differences and a vast gap in expectations and hopes on both sides.

“Despite earlier expectations, the two leaders left the table empty handed and that represented how big the gap was over specific details that each side wants,” one journalist here said.

The collapse of the much-anticipated summit will also likely put the brakes on the possible resumption of planned inter-Korean economic projects. This is because the U.S. holds the key to easing sanctions on North Korea. Without sanctions relief, the South cannot push ahead with joint economic cooperation with the North.

Cheong Wa Dae expressed regret over the outcome of the summit, but said the presidential office will do its utmost to help Washington and Pyongyang maintain their momentum for dialogue.

President Moon Jae-in had a telephone conversation with Trump, Thursday evening, when both sides shared the consequences of the summit and discussed measures to keep the North’s denuclearization on track.

Following their first summit in Singapore, the Pyongyang had urged Washington to provide corresponding measures in exchange for the regime’s phased denuclearization steps. These included the dismantling of the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear site.

The U.S., however, continued to maintain its hardline stance, keeping heavy sanctions in place.

It called on Pyongyang to take more verifiable steps for denuclearization of the peninsula, in exchange for sanctions relief from the U.S. and the international community.

With the two sides showing no signs of ending the months-long deadlock in talks on nuclear disarmament, there had been growing calls for the need to hold the second summit.

In January, bilateral relations started to improve with both leaders exchanging their willingness to hold the summit.

The U.S. and the North have since engaged in a series of working-level and high-level talks to narrow their differences on the roadmap for the denuclearization of the peninsula. It had appeared that pre-summit meetings were successful, as the two sides reached an agreement for the timeline of the leaders’ meeting.

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