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Trump-Kim summit no big deal

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US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands before their one-on-one chat during the second US-North Korea summit at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, on Wednesday. Reuters

HANOI (Reuters) – US President Donald Trump yesterday said his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had failed to reach agreement due to North Korean demands to lift punishing US-led sanctions.

Earlier, both Mr Trump and Mr Kim had expressed hope for progress on improving relations and on the key issue of denuclearisation, in their talks here, their second summit in eight months.

“Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that … we had to walk away from it,” Mr Trump told reporters after the summit talks were cut short.

The United Nations and the United States ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state undertook a series of nuclear and missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources hard cash.

Both leaders left the venue of their talks, the French-colonial-era Metropole hotel, without attending a planned lunch together, and returned to their hotels.

Failure to reach an agreement marks a setback for Mr Trump, a self-styled dealmaker.

While Mr Trump had said he was in “no rush” to strike a deal with North Korea, and wanted to do the right deal with Mr Kim, the White House had been confident enough to schedule a now cancelled “joint agreement signing ceremony” at the conclusion of talks.

“You always have to be prepared to walk,” Mr Trump said, describing the two days of talks as very productive. “We had papers ready to be signed, it just wasn’t appropriate.”

Kicking off their second day in Hanoi earlier yesterday, Mr Trump again stressed the talks aimed at tackling North Korea’s nuclear threat should not be rushed. He said he would be happy as long as North Korea conducted no more nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

North Korea has conducted no nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile tests since late 2017.

Mr Trump said Mr Kim had promised him there would be no more nuclear or rocket tests.

Mr Trump said he and Mr Kim had discussed dismantling North Korea’s main nuclear facility at Yongbyon, which Mr Kim was willing to do, but he had wanted sanctions relief.

News of the summit failure sent South Korea’s currency lower and knocked regional stock markets. South Korea’s Kospi index closed 1.8 percent lower, marking the biggest one-day percentage loss since Oct 2018.

Earlier Mr Kim and Mr Trump, seated across from each other at a conference table, appeared confident of progress.

“If I’m not willing to do that, I won’t be here right now,” Mr Kim told reporters through an interpreter, when asked if he was ready to give up his nuclear weapons.

Mr Trump, responding to that, said: “That might be the best answer you’ve ever heard.”

Mr Kim did not elaborate on what “denuclearisation” would entail, but asked if he was ready to take concrete steps, he said they had just been talking about that.

While the United States is demanding North Korea give up all of its nuclear and missile programs, the North wants to see the removal of a US nuclear umbrella for its Asian allies such as South Korea and Japan.

The two leaders’ first summit, in Singapore in June, the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, produced a vague statement in which Mr Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

But there has been little progress since.

Earlier Mr Kim, asked by a reporter if he was confident about a deal, said, through an interpreter:

“It’s too early to tell, but I wouldn’t say I’m pessimistic. For what I feel right now, I do have a feeling that good results will come out,” he said, in what was believed to be his first ever response to a foreign journalist.

“There must be people who watch us having a wonderful time, like a scene from a fantasy movie. We have so far made lots of efforts, and it’s time to show them,” Mr Kim said.

Mr Trump reiterated North Korea’s potential, if a deal can be done, saying the isolated country could be an “economic powerhouse”.

Mr Trump said late last year he and MrKim “fell in love”, but there have been doubts about whether the bonhomie could move them beyond summit pageantry to substantive progress on eliminating a North Korean nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States.

While Mr Trump indicated a more flexible stance in the run-up to Hanoi, critics warned that he risked squandering vital leverage over North Korea if he gave away too much, too quickly.

US intelligence officials have said there is no sign North Korea would ever give up its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, which Mr Kim’s ruling family sees as vital to its survival.

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