The awaited summit talk between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un abruptly ended earlier than scheduled Thursday and the signing ceremony for a nuclear deal was canceled.
The White House did not provide an explanation, but said Trump would move up a news conference by two hours, to 2 a.m. Eastern time.
The stunning announcement came after Trump and Kim tamped down expectations for the two-day summit that played out amid ceremony in Vietnam and political turmoil in the United States.
“We’ll ultimately have a deal,” Trump told reporters just a few hours before cutting off talks early, but he added that “doesn’t mean we’re doing it in one day, in one meeting.”
The president spoke guardedly throughout a morning of meetings with Kim that came just after his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, implicated him in criminal wrongdoing back in the U.S.
The leaders suggested they may have trouble bridging the U.S. demand that North Korea provide a specific plan for denuclearization and North Korea’s demand that the U.S. first ease off economic sanctions.
As he did before the summit, Trump said he was in no “rush” to demand immediate denuclearization, so long as North Korea continues not to test nuclear weapons and missiles.
“Speed is not that important to me,” Trump said. “I appreciate no testing.”
Kim, taking the unprecedented step of answering a western reporter’s question, said “it’s too early to say” whether there will be a deal, but “I would not say I’m pessimistic.”
Later, again responding to an American reporter, Kim said he is willing to denuclearize his nation’s weapons systems. “If I’m not willing to do that,” he said, “I won’t be here right now.”
“That might be the best answer you’ve ever heard,” Trump chimed in.
Little more than an hour later, the White House announced the summit was ending early. White House spokesman Sarah Sanders declined to discuss the reason, saying only that a planned agreement signing ceremony appeared “unlikely.”
Reporters had gathered for a photo opportunity at a Trump-Kim lunch of snow fish and apple foie gras jelly. As the room sat empty, however, a White House aide came in and announced there had been a “program change.”In addition to a denuclearization deal, the two sides were discussing a declaration to formally end the nearly seven-decade-old Korean War, which is technically still in place because it ended only with an armistice in 1953.
Another topic of conversation between the United States and North Korea was establishing “liaison offices” in each other’s capital cities of Washington and Pyongyang. These would not be embassies, but offices the governments could use to communicate with each other.
Kim said earlier Thursday that concept is “welcomeable,” while Trump called it a “good idea.”
The two sides had scheduled a “Joint Agreement Signing Ceremony,” but the governments did not produce a specific document – and the details would be crucial for the agreement to be effective, national security analysts said.
“The two sides need to reach a common understanding of what their desired endgame for ‘denuclearization’ actually is,” said Kristine Lee, a research associate with the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security.
Trump plans to cap the truncated summit with a news conference before boarding Air Force One for the trip back to the United States.