As his former fixer Michael Cohen spilled his guts to Congress, President Trump had one thing going for him: Overnight, he’d announce that he’d reached a new agreement with North Korea — maybe even declaring an official end to the Korean War. That would knock some of the Cohen news out of the headlines on Thursday morning, and show that while Trump may have committed various crimes in the past, as president he’s at least moving us toward more peaceful relations with North Korea.
Unfortunately, that’t not what happened in Hanoi. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un abruptly cut short their two-day summit — skipping their planned signing ceremony and even lunch — when they failed to reach an agreement.
The major sticking point was Kim’s demand that the U.S. drop all sanctions in return for North Korea closing just one nuclear facility. “It was about the sanctions,” Trump said at a press conference in Hanoi. “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that.”
“We had some options, but at this time we decided not to do any of the options,” Trump said, adding, “Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.”
So it seems like there was little point to Trump flying halfway around the world, and spending 20 hours in Vietnam. There was no talk of a third summit, but Trump stressed that his friendship with the North Korean dictator remains intact.
“This wasn’t a walkaway like you get up and walk out,” Trump said. “No, this was very friendly. We shook hands … There’s a warmth that we have, and I hope that stays. I think it will. But we’re positioned to do something very special.”
It’s unclear what “something very special” might look like. Trump said Kim is still committed to holding off on missile launches and nuclear weapons tests (though reports suggest its nuclear weapons program is still very much alive). But it’s becoming more and more apparent that the previous goal set for the talks — at last year’s summit in Singapore Kim promised to “work toward complete denuclearization” — isn’t very realistic. And it certainly won’t happen on the absurdly fast timeline Trump suggested back then.
Still, there’s no doubt that relations with North Korea are less dangerous than when the two leaders were threatening each other over their “nuclear button” at the start of 2018. Trump told reporters that he and Kim discussed Otto Warmbier, the American student who was imprisoned in North Korea and died in 2017 of brain damage after being returned home in a coma, and he’s sure his pal knew nothing about one of the few Americans being imprisoned in his country.
“He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,” Trump said. “Those prisons are rough. They’re rough places, and bad things happen. But I don’t believe he knew about it.”