Donald Trump and Chairman Kim
President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un abruptly ended summit talks earlier than scheduled Thursday, unable to agree on the terms of a deal to determine the fate of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
“No agreement was reached at this time, but their respective teams look forward to meeting in the future,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
Trump planned to speak about the impasse at a news conference at 2 a.m. Eastern time, an event he moved up by two hours.
The stunning announcement came after Trump and Kim tamped down expectations for the two-day summit that played out amid ceremony in Vietnam and political turmoil in the United States.
“We’ll ultimately have a deal,” Trump told reporters just a few hours before cutting off talks early, but he added that “doesn’t mean we’re doing it in one day, in one meeting.”
The president spoke guardedly throughout a morning of meetings with Kim that came just after his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, implicated him in criminal wrongdoing back in the U.S.
The leaders suggested they may have trouble bridging the U.S. demand that North Korea provide a specific plan for denuclearization and North Korea’s demand that the U.S. first ease off economic sanctions.
Sanders said Trump and Kim “discussed various ways to advance denuclearization and economic driven concepts,” but did not come to an agreement.
As he did before the summit, Trump said he was in no “rush” to demand immediate denuclearization, so long as North Korea continues not to test nuclear weapons and missiles.
“Speed is not that important to me,” Trump said. “I appreciate no testing.”
Kim, taking the unprecedented step of answering a western reporter’s question, said “it’s too early to say” whether there will be a deal, but “I would not say I’m pessimistic.”
Later, again responding to an American reporter, Kim said he is willing to denuclearize his nation’s weapons systems. “If I’m not willing to do that,” he said, “I won’t be here right now.”
“That might be the best answer you’ve ever heard,” Trump chimed in.
Little more than an hour later, the White House announced the summit was ending early. White House spokesman Sarah Sanders declined to discuss the reason, saying only that a planned agreement signing ceremony appeared “unlikely.”
Reporters had gathered for a photo opportunity at a Trump-Kim lunch of snow fish and apple foie gras jelly. As the room sat empty, however, a White House aide came in and announced there had been a “program change.”
In addition to a denuclearization deal, the two sides were discussing a declaration to formally end the nearly seven-decade-old Korean War, which is technically still in place because it ended only with an armistice in 1953.
Another topic of conversation between the United States and North Korea was establishing “liaison offices” in each other’s capital cities of Washington and Pyongyang. These would not be embassies, but offices the governments could use to communicate with each other.
Kim said earlier Thursday that concept is “welcomeable,” while Trump called it a “good idea.”
The two sides had scheduled a “Joint Agreement Signing Ceremony,” but the governments did not produce a specific document – and the details would be crucial for the agreement to be effective, national security analysts said.
“The two sides need to reach a common understanding of what their desired endgame for ‘denuclearization’ actually is,” said Kristine Lee, a research associate with the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security.
Trump plans to cap the truncated summit with a news conference before boarding Air Force One for the trip back to the United States.
Reporters are likely to question Trump at length about Cohen’s testimony against him.
The former attorney and fixer described his ex-client Trump as a “con man,” a “cheat” and a “racist.” Cohen implicated Trump in potential crimes involving tax returns, campaign finance, and Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election by hacking emails related to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Trump tweeted that Cohen is a liar looking to protect himself from legal jeopardy.
The Cohen testimony before Congress has to a large extent overshadowed the Trump-Kim summit, the latest act in a relationship that has seen a remarkable turnaround.
Not long ago, each leader threatened to destroy the other’s country.
Trump, who once mocked Kim as “Little Rocket Man,” said they have a great relationship. He has described the North Korean dictator as a “friend” with whom he as a “warm” and “special” relationship.
At Thursday’s summit, Trump and Kim could be seen strolling the grounds of the meeting site at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel, an art nouveau classic that opened in 1901 when the French ran Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, Metropole guests used the air raid shelter beneath the building when U.S. bombers attacked.
Kim told reporters he knows that people have a “skeptical view” of his talks with with Trump – and that following them is “like watching a scene from a fantasy movie.”
The friendly tone in Vietnam – Trump and Kim could be seen chatting amiably during their dinner – drew catcalls from Trump’s critics back in the United States who point out that the North Korean leader has starved his people, imprisoned his political opponents, and killed potential challengers.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump seems to be “touting his ‘warm’ relationship with Chairman Kim as an accomplishment in and of itself.”
Schumer also said he fears Trump may give away too much to strike a deal – any deal – that he can use to “knock Michael Cohen’s hearing from the front page.”