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Trump-Kim nuclear summit ends with ‘no agreement’ over US sanctions

Saul Loeb / AFP | US President Donald Trump (R) walks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un during a break in talks at the second US-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on February 28, 2019.

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had failed due to Pyongyang’s demands to lift punishing US-led sanctions.

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

"It was all about the sanctions," Trump said at a press conference after the talks were cut short. "Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn't do that ... we had to walk away from it."

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

The motorcades of the two leaders roared away from the downtown Hanoi summit site within minutes of each other, after both a lunch and the signing ceremony were cancelled.

"Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times," Trump said, adding "it was a friendly walk".

Nuclear talks were 'very productive' but 'not a good thing to be signing anything' Trump said

Key Yongbyon nuclear complex

Trump was looking for Kim to destroy North Korea's decades-old Yongbyon nuclear complex, which has long been at the heart of Pyongyang's atomic development but remains shrouded in secrecy.

During the press conference, Trump said “Kim would dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex but he wants the sanctions for that and as you know, there’s plenty left after that… But I felt that facility, while very big, it wasn’t enough to do what we were doing, we had to have more than that. There are other things [including a second uranium enrichment plant]”

But he insisted he was "optimistic that the progress we made" before and at the summit left them "in position to have a really good outcome" in the future.

Failure to reach an agreement marks a setback for Trump. Since their first summit in Singapore in June Trump has stressed the good chemistry he has with Kim, but there have been questions about whether the bonhomie could move them beyond summit pageantry to substantive progress on eliminating the North Korean nuclear arsenal.

‘No rush’ for a deal

The breakdown came just hours after Trump and Kim appeared to inch toward normalising relations between their still technically-warring nations. The American leader did play down expectations that their talks would yield an agreement, saying he was in "no rush" to secure a nuclear deal with Kim Jong Un.

Despite the lack of concrete deal, the two men who once traded personal insults and threats of destruction have just held their second meeting in eight months. Furthermore, Trump said the North Korean leader promised him there would be no more nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

Pyongyang has conducted no missile tests since late 2017.

The summit produced plenty of cosy photo opportunities but was always only vague on commitment from Kim to "work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula".

For what it is almost certainly the first time, the North Korean leader also answered an impromptu question from an American reporter and several more from other reporters.

When asked by a member of the White House press pool about his outlook on the summit, Kim said "It's too early to say. I won't make predictions. But I instinctively feel that a good outcome will be produced."

Kim also said he would welcome the opening of a US liaison office in his capital, Pyongyang.

Of a liaison office – which is below that of an embassy – Kim told reporters in Hanoi: "I think it is something that is worth welcoming."

Trump echoed these sentiments, stating that it would be a “great thing”.

Much scepticism

"I can't speak necessarily for today, but I can say that this, a little bit longer-term, and over a period of time, I know we're going to have a fantastic success with respect to Chairman Kim and North Korea," said Trump.

Trump again touted the possibility of impoverished North Korea becoming an "economic powerhouse" if it gave up its nuclear arsenal -- an outcome analysts say is extremely unlikely.

Kim, for his part, when asked whether he was ready to denuclearise, said "If I'm not willing to do that I won't be here right now." The Pyongyang strongman said there were "people who hold a sceptical view of our meeting" but pledged to seek "great, ultimately good results".

"I think watching us have a great time will be like watching a scene from a fantasy movie," he added.

How two Koreas are taking slow steps towards reconciliation

Diplomatic bromance?

Although ultimately cut short, the two men have again displayed outward signs of an unlikely diplomatic bromance in Hanoi, clasping hands and appearing to share jokes. Looking relaxed but appearing to say little, they indulged in a poolside stroll Thursday around the gardens of the luxury Metropole Hotel.

It was all a far cry from the height of missile-testing tensions in 2017 when Trump slammed Kim as "rocket man" and the younger leader branded the American president a "mentally deranged US dotard".

The summit was "pageantry for Trump and brings Kim more credibility on the world stage as a responsible, rational actor", the Stimson Center's David Kim told AFP. "But I would define success in terms of outcomes," the analysts added

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP, AP)

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