Without Nuclear Deal, What’s Next for US-North Korea

28 February, 2019

American President Donald Trump says he walked away from a nuclear deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam on Thursday.

Trump said Kim was only willing to give up North Korea's main nuclear structure at Yongbyon -- and not complete denuclearization. In return, the North Korean leader demanded that all sanctions against his country be lifted.

Trump said, "Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn't do that."

The United States and the United Nations had increased sanctions on North Korea in 2017, after the country carried out a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The measures have created economic difficulties for North Korea.

President Donald Trump speaks as Sec of State Mike Pompeo looks on during a news conference after a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks as Sec of State Mike Pompeo looks on during a news conference after a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Hours after Trump left Hanoi, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said that North Korea had sought only a partial lifting of sanctions "related to people's livelihoods and unrelated to military sanctions."

A second official added that Kim "might lose his willingness to pursue a deal" after the U.S. rejected the offer.

South Korea's presidential spokesman said in a statement, "(We) do feel regret that President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un could not reach complete agreement at today's summit. But it also appears that they have clearly made more meaningful progress than at any time in the past."

China's foreign ministry spokesman said in his regular meeting with reporters Thursday, "the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue has been there for many years and cannot be resolved overnight without effort."

He added that, "based on what we can see from the reports by far, the two sides may continue with their talks at the working level..."

Is Kim testing Trump?

There was hope of an agreement when the two leaders began their two-day meeting on Wednesday.

When a reporter asked Kim that day if he was ready to give up his nuclear weapons, the North Korean leader said, "If I'm not willing to do that, I won't be here right now."

The White House even scheduled a "joint agreement signing ceremony" at the end of the talks. The ceremony did not take place, as Trump quickly left Vietnam.

The first meeting between Trump and Kim, held in June in Singapore, produced a statement that North Korea would work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But little progress followed.

U.S. intelligence officials have recently said that North Korea is unlikely to give up all of its nuclear weapons. They say its leaders consider nuclear weapon to be critical to the ruling family's survival.

Daniel Russel is a former top State Department diplomat for East Asia. He told the Reuters news agency, "Kim Jong-un is not testing ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs at the moment, but he is testing Donald Trump."

Russel added that, given Trump's troubles in the United States, Kim may have been trying to see if Trump was "desperate enough to take any deal he could get."

As the two leaders were meeting in Hanoi, Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, appeared before Congress and accused the president of several wrongdoings.

Working level talks

After last year's Singapore summit, U.S. negotiators had difficulties trying to meet with the North Koreans.

On Thursday, U.S. Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter, "The lack of working-level talks in the lead up to the Hanoi Summit undermined the chances of reaching a successful deal."

Russel agreed that without working-level talks, it is harder for the two the two leaders to reach a deal. He said, "At this point it will be no easy matter to persuade North Korea to move quickly, to deal with U.S. negotiators rather than with Trump directly, or to accept that its entire nuclear and missile program must be on the table."

Kyle Ferrier is director of the Washington-based Korea Economic Institute. He said, "By walking away from the table, Trump is effectively signaling to North Korea that they will have to deal more with Steve Biegun," the U.S. special envoy for North Korea.

Ferrier added, "What is needed now are small steps to keep the diplomatic momentum going."

I'm Caty Weaver.

Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on Reuters, Associated Press and VOA news reports. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

sanction - n. an action that is taken to force a country to obey international laws by limiting trade or economic activity

entirety - n. the whole or total amount of something

peninsula - n a piece of land that is almost entirely surrounded by water and is attached to a larger area of land

ballistic missile - n. a weapon that is shot through the sky over a great distance

desperate - adj. having a strong need or desire to do something

undermine - v. to make something less effective

on the table - phrase, to be available or put forward

momentum - n. the strength or force that allows something to continue