The second summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un ended abruptly today, with no resolution. The day started with a cheery photo-op where the North Korean leader fielded his first question from a foreign reporter (paywall) and expressed cautious hope for a “good result.”
The two sides then went into a closed-door meeting. The first inkling that things weren’t going according to plan came when White House pool reporter David Nakamura of the Washington Post—whose question Kim unexpectedly answered—reported that lunch was delayed by half an hour. “No sign of US or DPRK delegations in the lunch room where table was set with menus and name cards on chairs,” he reported soon after.
Then, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced that Trump’s press conference had been moved up, from 4pm local time to 2pm, and said nothing about the joint-signing ceremony. Thereafter, Kim’s motorcade was photographed leaving the venue where talks were taking place.
At his press conference soon after the summit was cut short, Trump said he and secretary of state Mike Pompeo felt “it wasn’t a good thing to be signing anything” today, and described his relationship with Kim as “very strong.”
“We had some options at this time. We decided not to do any of those options,” said Trump. “Sometimes you have to walk.” The sticking point, he said, was North Korea’s request to lift sanctions immediately, while not agreeing in exchange to the “coverage” the US required when it comes to denuclearization.
Trump was heavily criticized after his first meeting with Kim, in June in Singapore, for failing to extract concrete concessions on North Korea’s denuclearization, while posing with him for photos that appeared in the autocratic country’s state-run press and agreeing to suspend military exercises with South Korea. Trump nevertheless expressed confidence going into this week’s summit that he could achieve results with North Korea, holding out the promise of rapid development for the economically isolated country.
The US intelligence community and top military commanders expressed doubts ahead of the summit that North Korea would ever agree to give up its nuclear weapons so easily.
“We actually had papers ready to be signed,” said Trump, adding, “I’d much rather do it right than do it fast.”