Here we go again: Less than a year after first meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un in Singapore to discuss denuclearizing the communist nation, President Donald Trump is back at the table for a second round of negotiations with Kim.
Trump (finally) arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam, Tuesday afternoon (U.S. time) for what is scheduled to be a two-day summit. The two leaders are set to discuss a potential official end to the Korean War, if and how North Korea will curb its nuclear program, and what concessions—including sanction relief—America might provide to incentivize that process.
Trump and Kim will spend most of the day in negotiations before a signing ceremony this evening, at about 2 am EST.
The summit between Kim and Trump has already led to some changes to long-observed North Korean protocol. This afternoon (Vietnamese time), Kim responded to a question from a foreign journalist for the first time ever.
In response to a journalist asking whether Kim was confident about the results of the talks, Kim responded, through a translator: “It is too early to tell. I would not make a prediction. But my instinct is that good results will come out.”
Trump told CNN he wasn’t in any rush to come to an agreement with Kim.
“I’ve been saying very much from the beginning that speed is not that important to me,” he said. “Speed is not important to me. What is important is that we do the right deal.”
Trump has made no secret of his attempts to frame the denuclearization effort as one of the crowning achievements of his presidency, despite little actual evidence that the negotiations have had any serious impact to date. Trump even reportedly asked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to nominate him for a Nobel prize for his North Korea diplomacy.
And yet, only hours before the summit, NBC reported that the U.S. is apparently dropping the demand for a full accounting of North Korea’s current nuclear program, suggesting that Trump is no longer pushing a full denuclearization. The news came from current and former senior US officials. North Korea’s unwillingness to make a full accounting of their nuclear resources is the issue over which the last major talks, ten years ago, fell apart.
Trump has frequently touted his allegedly good relationship with Kim, even after having previously lambasted the North Korean leader as a “rocket man.” Whether this latest negotiation will result in anything concrete—or just more abstract warm fuzzies—remains to be seen.
Update, 02/28/2019, 12:05 a.m. ET: Responding to a question from a reporter, Kim said he was willing to consider denuclearizing, according to CNN.
“If I’m not willing to do that, I wouldn’t be here right now,” he said, through his interpreter.
“That’s a good answer,” Trump responded. “Wow. That might be the best answer you’ve ever heard.”
Update, 1:30 a.m. ET: Things are getting a big weird in Hanoi. According to CNN, both the working lunch with the two leaders and their scheduled 2 p.m. signing ceremony have apparently been called off. CNN reporter Will Ripley said the talks ended “abruptly.”
This does not seem good!
Both leaders have apparently returned to their hotels, and South Korean stocks are in a nosedive.
Update, 1:50 a.m. ET: It’s looking like the summit is over early. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement reported by CNN that the two sides did not reach an agreement.
“No agreement was reached at this time, but their respective teams look forward to meeting in the future,” Sanders said.
“President Donald J. Trump of the United States and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had very good and constructive meetings in Hanoi, Vietnam, on February 27-28, 2019,” she added. “The two leaders discussed various ways to advance denuclearization and economic driven concepts.”
This is very strange. If the meetings were so good, why are they over unexpectedly, and why isn’t the signing ceremony happening?
Update, 2:50 a.m. ET: In the wake of the failed negotiations, Trump held a press conference in which he tried to put a positive spin on the events of the day.
The president called the talks a “really productive time” but said the potential agreement “wasn’t a thing to be signing anything,” whatever that means.
“He’s quite a guy, quite a character,” Trump remarked of Kim, according to video posted by the BBC. “We had some options but at this time we decided not to do any of the options.”
“Sometimes you have to walk,” Trump said. “This was just one of those times.”
Trump seemed to suggest that Kim’s request to remove all sanctions had ended the negotiations, according to CNN.
“Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that,” he said.
“[Kim] has a certain vision and it’s not exactly our vision, but it’s a lot closer than it was a year ago and I think eventually we’ll get there,” Trump continued. “For this particular visit we decided that we had to walk.”
Trump also said that Kim had promised him to halt nuclear testing and they would “keep talking.”
But don’t worry! Trump and Kim are still buds.
“This wasn’t a walk away like you get up and walk out,” Trump said, like a person who definitely doesn’t have brain worms. “The relationship was very warm and when we walked away it was a very friendly walk.”
Trump’s press conference was also included a statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“We didn’t get to something that made sense for the United States of America. I think Chairman Kim was hopeful that we would. We asked him to do more. He was unprepared to do that. But I’m still optimistic,” he said.
We will be updating this post as more information becomes available.