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25 May 2019·
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Kim and Trump: A Diplomatic Failure

Kim and Trump: A Diplomatic Failure

The second round of talks between the US and North Korea has been one of the most high-profile diplomatic collapses in recent years.

The leaders were in Vietnam for talks on nuclear disarmament. They were under pressure to reach concrete measures after making little progress following a historic first summit in Singapore last year. Immediately following the June 2018 summit, Trump had declared "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea … sleep well tonight." But in September 2018, The New York Times reported that "North Korea is making nuclear fuel and building weapons as actively as ever," but is doing so quietly.

In November 2018, North Korea repeated its demand that American economic sanctions on the country be lifted as a condition of proceeding in talks, while the Trump administration continued to insist North Korea make concessions first. The February 2019 summit was confirmed after talks between the two sides.

Going into the summit, wide gaps persisted between the two countries, including what 'denuclearization' means exactly. Vietnam was chosen as ideal venue for many reasons. It has diplomatic relations with both the US and North Korea, despite once having been enemies with the US and could be used by the US as an example of two countries working together and setting aside their past grievances.

The Hanoi meeting was expected to build on the ground work of what was achieved at Singapore Summit last June. Trump is pushing North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons as he dangles the prospect of an economic boost to the respective isolated country. Kim wants to see sanctions eased without losing the strategic benefits of his weapons of mass destruction.

On February 27, at Hanoi, Trump and Kim had a one-to-one meeting. President Trump assured North Korea a "tremendous future for your country" in his initial comments with Chairman Kim. The White House on February 28, 2019, announced that the summit was cut short and that no agreement was reached.

North Korea and the US have given differing accounts of why the second summit between Trump and Kim ended in a failure. The abrupt end to the Hanoi meeting, which was cut short by several hours was a setback from both leaders.

President Trump said in a press conference after the summit in Hanoi that the summit was cut short because North Korea wanted an end to economic sanctions. In his version of events, Trump said Kim wanted complete sanctions relief for dismantling the main nuclear complex at Yongbyon, but the US wanted other nuclear facilities including covert sites disabled as well. Trump however made it clear that the status quo will continue with North Korea.

Whereas North Korean foreign minister offered a different account of his country's position saying that North Korea had proposed only a partial lifting of sanctions of a total of 11 UN sanctions. North Korea wanted 5 sanctions originally imposed in 2016 and 2017 lifted. In exchange North Korea offered to 'permanently and completely' dismantle its primary nuclear facility in Yongbyon, and that American experts would be allowed to observe.

Despite the summit being cut short and no agreements having been reached, South Korea and Japan both supported Trump's actions. A statesman from South Korea's presidential office called the breakdown of talks 'regrettable' but said the US and North Korean leaders had made 'more meaningful progress than at any time prior.'

China, North Korea's main ally, said it hoped both sides would keep talking.

Whatever the reasons, the summit's failure to produce an actionable agreement was decidedly not a loss. It will take a lot of creative diplomacy to unlock all the differences.

Writer is a freelance researcher on International Diplimacy