Friday, March 1, 2019

Trump-Kim Summit Ends in Impasse and Uncertainty

At the Los Angeles Times, "Trump says he still trusts Kim, but needed to 'walk away' from a bad nuclear deal":

The collapse of President Trump’s summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un left confusion in its wake Thursday, with each side blaming the other and no clear path forward in the nuclear standoff.

As Trump flew home from Hanoi, site of the abbreviated gathering, a growing outcry erupted in the United States over Trump’s defense of Kim in the 2017 death of American college student Otto Warmbier, whose family said he suffered brutal torture while imprisoned in North Korea.

But despite the president returning empty-handed, Trump’s political allies praised what they called his acumen in walking away rather than accepting a bad deal, and some analysts cited early signs that North Korea still wanted to keep open the lines of communication.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the Senate floor to declare that Trump had made the right call.

“High-level diplomacy can carry high-level risks, but the president is to be commended for walking away when it became clear insufficient progress had been made on denuclearization,” McConnell said.

Trump cut short his summit with Kim earlier Thursday, rejecting the North Korean leader’s offer to dismantle a major nuclear complex in exchange for the removal of U.S.-led economic sanctions.

Trump said that the U.S. wanted more concessions from Kim and that talks would continue. But the president wouldn’t commit to holding a third summit after two high-profile meetings have failed to produce a concrete agreement on rolling back Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

“Sometimes you have to walk,” Trump said at a news conference in the Vietnamese capital before departing for Washington on Air Force One. “This was one of those times.”

Less than 12 hours later, a North Korean official took the rare step of holding a news conference to tell reporters: Kim made a “realistic proposal,” and it was the U.S. that was obstinate in its demands.

In a Hanoi hotel lobby after midnight, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said North Korea had proposed dismantling its main nuclear complex and permanently halting all nuclear and long-range missile testing in exchange for a partial lifting of sanctions, but the U.S. was “not ready to accept our proposal.”

“Our principal stand will remain invariable and our proposal will never be changed,” he said.

“This proposal was the biggest denuclearization measure we can take at the present stage in relation to the current level of confidence between the DPRK and the United States,” Ri said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In response to Ri's comments, a senior U.S. official said early Friday that while the North Korean delegation did not seek the lifting of all sanctions, it wanted to remove enough to gut the "maximum pressure" campaign of squeezing the country’s economy. The relaxation of sanctions would have freed government funds for more weapons development, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with State Department rules for speaking about negotiations.

"So to give many, many billions of dollars in sanctions relief would in effect put us in a position of subsidizing the ongoing development of weapons of mass destruction in North Korea," the administration official told reporters traveling with Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo. "Now, they didn’t ask us to do that, but that is effectively the choice that we were presented with. "

As Trump flew home via Alaska, where he briefly addressed troops during a refueling stop at Elmendorf Air Force Base, even some supporters expressed dismay over Trump’s about-face on Warmbier, the 22-year-old who was held for 17 months by North Korea and died shortly after being returned home in a vegetative state.

At the time, the president decried Pyongyang’s “cruel dictatorship,” and had the student’s parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, as guests at his 2018 State of the Union address...