North Korea reportedly wanted the US to lift all sanctions on the country in exchange for decommissioning the Yongbyon nuclear facility.
UNITED NATIONS — President Donald Trump walked away from talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam on Thursday after failing to reach agreement on denuclearization and sanctions issues.
Speaking to reporters in Hanoi, Trump hinted at where he and Kim butted heads.
“They were willing to denuke a large portion of the areas that we wanted, but we couldn’t give up all of the sanctions for that.”
It’s believed North Korea offered to decommission its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, but in exchange wanted the U.S. to lift all sanctions.
For its part, the U.S. suspected Yongbyon might be on the table, but hoped North Korea would fess up about many of its undeclared nuclear and missile sites.
Carlyle Thayer is emeritus professor of politics at Australia’s University of New South Wales.
“Secretary [Mike] Pompeo wanted a big step – had a list of classified installations that the U.S. felt North Korea didn’t know the U.S. knew about, and wanted access to them and no movement on the sanctions. There’s where the rubber hit the road.”
It turns out reconciling contradictory visions of denuclearization is hard work for heads of state. And even though Trump and Kim reportedly agreed to continue talks, it’s unclear how the two sides intend to make progress.
North Korea prefers dealing directly with Trump and has repeatedly boxed out Secretary Pompeo. On the U.S. side, envoy Steve Biegun was relegated to playing a bit part in Hanoi after spending weeks engaged in shuttle diplomacy — a sign the U.S. is struggling to find credible negotiators besides the president.
Unless the White House can sort out how to keep talking without Trump and Kim meeting face-to-face, Thayer thinks U.S.-North Korea diplomacy could lose momentum.
“Like an inoculation, one summit’s a booster and two’s really great if you get a result, but they wear off. Who’s going to be excited about a third summit meeting unless there is substantial agreement that we know about ahead of time?”