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Trump’s second North Korea summit ‘clearly’ a failure, Kim keeps nukes



President Donald Trump’s second meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, “clearly was a failure,” experts say, given the president walked away with the path still very unclear to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

It’s not clear what happens next as the dust is still settling from a summit cut short.

A North Korean official said Kim may have “lost the will” for future talks, as Washington and Pyongyang spar over the details of the meeting and why the two leaders cut them off.

Trump claimed North Korea wanted all economic sanctions on it to be lifted in exchange for shutting down its major nuclear facility, Yongbyon.

Read more: North Korea contradicts Trump’s summary of collapsed summit with Kim Jong Un

Meanwhile, North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong-ho said the country was willing to both dismantle Yongbyon and permanently halt testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. What’s more, Ri said North Korea did not demand all sanctions be lifted but only asked for five our of 11 to be eased, contradicting Trump’s earlier assertions.

On top of this, Trump is being slammed by figures on both sides of the aisle for taking Kim’s word that he didn’t know about the maltreatment of Otto Warmbier, a US student who died shortly after being released from imprisonment in North Korea.

‘A failure for Trump’

“It clearly is a failure for Trump,” Jon Wolfsthal, who served as the nuclear expert for the National Security Council under former President Barack Obama, told INSIDER.

“He’s been lauding his success. He’s been talking about how he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, about how he has this great relationship with Kim Jong Un. But there’s no question that the threat from North Korea — the number of weapons, the number of missiles — is greater today than when he took office,” Wolfsthal added. “[Trump] failed to deliver what he claimed only he could deliver.”

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump talk in the garden of the Metropole hotel during the second North Korea-US summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, on February 28, 2019.
Leah Millis/Reuters

Wolfsthal said part of the reason the talks collapsed seems to have been that Trump dropped new demands on North Korea at the “last minute” that were pushed for by National Security Adviser John Bolton and had not been discussed prior to the sit-down in Hanoi. Bolton apparently urged Trump to ask North Korea to reveal its holding of chemical and biological weapons or pledge to get rid of them.

Read more: Trump’s acceptance of Kim Jong Un’s word on the death of Otto Warmbier fits a troubling pattern

“North Korea saw this as moving the goalposts,” Wolfsthal said, adding the Trump administration’s approach to this marked a “stark contrast” to how the Obama administration worked on diplomatic agreements such as the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accords.

“We never had to walk away from a deal at the last minute because we knew what we wanted and we actually included all of the decision makers in that process” before the president sat down in a room for negotiations.

“It’s clear that the lack of process, and the lack of cohesion in the Trump administration was one of the reasons the summit failed,” Wolfsthal added.

Other experts also seem to be in general agreement that the summit was a failure for Trump.

Victor Cha, who served on the National Security Council on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council as Director for Asia, in a Thursday op-ed for The New York Times said, “Having participated in nuclear negotiations with North Korea, I know what failure smells like. The truncated Hanoi summit, which concluded abruptly without an agreement between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, carried an awful stench.”

Cha, who was almost Trump’s ambassador to South Korea, added, “Not only did Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim fail to offer more empty promises, they even dispensed with signing a joint statement, canceled their planned ceremonial lunch, and skipped the joint news conference.”

‘Hopefully, the US will get another bite at the apple’

At the same time, experts say it’s good that Trump did not agree to a deal with bad terms and sound optimistic the negotiations can continue in the future, as the Trump administration claimed they would.

In his piece for the Times, Cha wrote, “Though the president never should have gotten himself into this position, he still probably did the right thing leaving Hanoi empty-handed. No deal is better than a bad deal.”

Wolfsthal said it’s true this specific meeting was a failure, but “that doesn’t mean the whole process is a failure.”

“I still think there’s hope for a moderate, interim deal,” Wolfsthal said. “Hopefully the US will get another bite at the apple.”

Read more: Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard points to US interventions as reason North Korea’s Kim Jong Un ‘will cling to his nukes’

Similarly, Ian Bremmer, founder and president of the Eurasia Group, on Thursday tweeted, “Despite failure of Summit, far less threat of escalation around North Korea than before diplomacy began … Even if the US doesn’t get what it wants, this is progress.”

In a separate tweet, Bremmer said a large part of the problem was Trump “made North Korea negotiations all about himself and Kim” and it’s “almost impossible to come to useful agreement that way.”

‘Let’s not forget who Trump is, he’s a TV star playing the role of the president’

Wolfsthal seems to largely agree that it’s good the president didn’t sign a bad deal and gives Trump credit for getting Kim to consider diplomatic talks. But he also said a larger issue at play is the fact the president gets too caught up in the attention such meetings get while ignoring the substance of them.

“Let’s not forget who Trump is, he’s a TV star playing the role of the president,” Wolfsthal said. “Trump is the dog that caught the car. He doesn’t really know what to do now. He wants to drag out this process. He wants a third summit. He wants more ratings … Even if there are no results.”

“I think Trump gets credit for having brought Kim Jong Un to the table, but it’s only partial credit,” he added. “You’ve got to get the deal across the finish line.”

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