Hanoi”•North Korea on Friday promised further negotiations with the US, as both sides sought to hold open the door while staking out their positions after their Hanoi summit spectacularly failed to produce a nuclear deal.
The second meeting between the North’s leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump broke up in disarray Thursday, with a signing ceremony canceled and no joint communique issued.
Each sought to blame the other’s intransigence for the deadlock, with Trump saying Pyongyang wanted all sanctions imposed on it over its banned weapons programs lifted.
But in a rare late-night press briefing, the North Korean foreign minister said it had only wanted some of the measures eased, and that its offer to close “all the nuclear production facilities” at its Yongbyon complex was the best it could ever offer.
Despite the deadlock, the North’s official KCNA news agency reported Friday that the two leaders had had a “constructive and candid exchange”.
Relations between the two countries”•on opposite sides of the technically still-unfinished Korean War”•had been “characterized by mistrust and antagonism” for decades, it said, and there were “inevitable hardships and difficulties” on the way to forging a new relationship.
It described the Hanoi meeting as “successful” and said Kim had promised Trump another encounter.
Similarly, Trump said before leaving the Vietnamese capital that he hoped to meet Kim again.
“Sometimes you have to walk and this was just one of those times,” an unusually downbeat Trump told reporters.
“I’d much rather do it right than do it fast,” he said, while reaffirming his “close relationship” with Kim. “There’s a warmth that we have and I hope that stays, I think it will.”
South Korea’s dovish President Moon Jae-in, who has brokered talks between the US and the North, sought to take the positives.
The talks had made “meaningful progress”, with Trump and Kim building “more trust” and “mutual understanding”, Moon said in a speech in Seoul.
The outcome in Hanoi fell far short of the pre-meeting expectations and hopes, after critics said their initial historic meeting in Singapore—which produced only a vague commitment from Kim to work “toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”—was more style over substance.
According to senior US officials, in the week leading up to the Hanoi summit the North Koreans had demanded the lifting of effectively all the UN Security Council economic sanctions imposed on Pyongyang since March 2016.
Before that date, the measures were largely focused on preventing technology transfers, but more recent restrictions were imposed on several valuable industries in an effort to force concessions from Pyongyang, including coal and iron ore exports, seafood, and textile trade.
“It was basically all the sanctions except for armaments,” a senior US official told reporters. “It tallies up to the tune of many, many billions of dollars.”
In return, they were only offering to close “a portion of the Yongbyon complex”, a sprawling site covering multiple different facilities”•and the North is believed to have other uranium enrichment plants.
Trump had urged Kim to go “all in” to secure a deal, the official said, adding Washington was willing to do so.
“The weapons themselves need to be on the table,” he added, pointing to both Pyongyang’s existing stock of atomic bombs and the ICBMs which can reach the whole of the US mainland.
But the process was continuing and Washington was “encouraged by the opportunities ahead of us”, the official said. “There’s still ample opportunity to talk.”
Analysts say the failure to reach a deal in Hanoi does not herald the end of negotiations.
“I don’t think it’s a disaster and it doesn’t end the dialogue process,” said Chris Green of the International Crisis Group.
Trump could not afford to do “a quote-unquote ‘bad deal’” in Hanoi, he added. “I think it benefits him to look tough, to string this out.”
But others have pointed to a lack of preparation ahead of the meeting, with the two sides unable to bridge the gaps between them in time.
Former US ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens said the impasse “highlighted the importance of working-level talks”.
Kim put “more emphasis” on sanctions relief than most observers predicted, she said, and mutual liaison offices and an end-of-war statement had proved insufficient to persuade him to go further with denuclearization.
Joel Wit and Jenny Town of the respected Washington-based 38 North project said that while there had been fears beforehand that Trump “was going to give away the store, he did just the opposite, holding out for a better deal”.
“The two leaders are heavily invested in the process so hopefully, this failed summit will just be one more chapter in the roller-coaster ride that is the Trump presidency,” they wrote.
But if the North Korean process stalls and Trump’s domestic troubles mount, they warned, North Korea may slip down his priority list.