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North Korea disputes Trump account of summit

KCNA via KNS / AFP | A picture from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) taken on February 28, 2019 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sitting with US President Donald Trump at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi.

The USA and North Korea on Friday put forward differing accounts over the breakdown of a high-stakes summit in Hanoi but offered guarded hope that they could meet again.

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After weeks of building expectations and with a signing ceremony ready to go, President Donald Trump abruptly ended his second-ever meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and declared a deadlock.

"Sometimes you have to walk and this was just one of those times," Trump told reporters.

Trump said that Pyongyang wanted all sanctions imposed on it over its banned weapons programmes lifted.

North Korea measured in denial

However, in an exceptionally rare meeting with reporters, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho spoke to the press in Hanoi at midnight to clarify North Korea's position. The 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 this, the North's official KCNA news agency reported Friday that the two leaders had had a "constructive and candid exchange".

North Korean foreign minister denies demanding all sanctions dropped

Relations between the two countries -- on opposite sides of the technically still-unfinished Korean War -- had been "characterised by mistrust and antagonism" for decades, it said, and there were "inevitable hardships and difficulties" on the way to forging a new relationship.

The official KCNA news agency also took a pacifying tone, saying Kim "expressed his thanks to Trump for making positive efforts for the successful meeting and talks while making a long journey and said goodbye, promising the next meeting."

Talks to continue

Both leaders have also expressed a desire for talks to continue.

The American leader had played down expectations that the talks would yield an agreement, saying he was in "no rush" to secure a nuclear deal with Kim Jong Un.

"I'd much rather do it right than do it fast," Trump told reporters after the summit, again reaffirming his "close relationship" with Kim.

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

"There's a warmth that we have and I hope that stays, I think it will."

'Need to regroup', says US

The outcome in Hanoi fell short of hopes that the meeting would build on the leaders' summit in Singapore in June, which marked a historic first but resulted only in a vague commitment to "work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula".

The US president has since frequently dangled the prospect of a brighter economic future for a nuclear-free North Korea, at one point tweeting there was "AWESOME" potential.

But it was not enough.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who accompanied Trump, said both sides "need to regroup" before agreeing to another meeting, adding: "My sense is it will take a little while."

Pompeo however also said "there's still a basis for believing that we can move forward".

Talks a 'major failure'

With a table already prepared for a working lunch and signing ceremony, Trump moved up his final news conference by two hours as he and Kim left without any accord.

"This is a major failure," tweeted Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund peace foundation, saying it showed the limits of top-level summitry with "not enough time or staff" to work out a deal.

Analyst David Kim of The Stimson Center told AFP, "I would define success in terms of outcomes”, adding that the summit was merely "pageantry for Trump and brings Kim more credibility on the world stage as a responsible, rational actor."

Trump's failure to clinch a deal paradoxically brought him praise within his Republican Party -- some members had privately fretted that he was too eager to seal a historic accord.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Trump "should be commended for his personal commitment to persuading Kim Jong Un to pursue a different path -- and for walking away when it became clear North Korea was not ready to commit enough to denuclearisation."

Seoul said that Trump "expressed regret" to President Moon Jae-in, who helped arrange the summits, over not striking a deal with Kim.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a longstanding hawk on North Korea, told reporters that he "fully supports President Trump's decision to make no easy compromise".

In China, North Korea's primary ally, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang voiced understanding, saying that "solving this problem is definitely not something that can be achieved overnight"

'Mentally deranged US dotard’ to bromance?

Despite the lack of a concrete deal and differing accounts, the two men who once traded personal insults and threats of destruction have just held their second meeting in eight months. The two leaders, nearly 40 years apart in age, 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".

Furthermore, 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 journalists.

Kim said that 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”.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)

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