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Trump ‘Walks’ With No Denuclearization Deal, Defends Kim Over Otto Warmbier’s Death

When the president defended Kim over the death of Otto Warmbier, he told reporters that he takes the dictator “at his word”

HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 28: T-shirts with the faces of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump are on display at local stores during the summit on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met on Wednesday and Thursday during their second summit as discussions continue in Hanoi on the possible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says he wouldn't be holding a second summit with President Donald Trump if he weren't willing to make good on his denuclearization pledge. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)

T-shirts with the faces of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump were on display at local stores during the summit on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Linh Pham/Getty Images

President Trump’s second meeting with Kim Jong-un didn’t go quite as smoothly as it did when they first met Singapore last June. The two leaders failed to reach a denuclearization deal after convening in Hanoi, Vietnam on Thursday, prompting Trump to leave the summit ahead of schedule. “Sometimes you have to walk and I think that was one of these times,” Trump said at a press conference before boarding Air Force One.

All seemed to be going well when Trump and Kim met alongside their officials on Thursday morning. When a reporter asked Kim if he was willing to denuclearize, he said through his translator that he “wouldn’t be here right now” if he weren’t “willing to do that.” Trump replied that that “might be the best answer you’ve ever heard.” The two leaders were then scheduled to have a lunch, with the expectation that they were sign a joint agreement. That never happened.

Trump explained that talks stalled when Kim demanded all international sanctions on North Korea be lifted in exchange for only certain concessions to its nuclear program. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety and we couldn’t do that,” he said. “They were willing to denuke a large portion of the areas that we want, but we couldn’t give up all of the sanctions for that.”

The inability to strike even a symbolic deal was especially surprising considering the United States had reportedly scaled back its demands. On Wednesday night, NBC News reported that negotiators were no longer asking North Korea to “disclose a full accounting of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program,” a sign that the U.S. has accepted that total denuclearization is an unrealistic expectation at this time. On Thursday, Trump said Kim was willing to dismantle North Korea’s largest nuclear plant in Yongbyon, which wasn’t enough. “He would do that but he wants the sanctions for that,” Trump told reporters. “As you know, there’s plenty left after that. I just felt it wasn’t good.”

Trump did, however, give in to Kim regarding the death of Otto Warmbier, the American student who died in 2017 after suffering brain trauma while he was imprisoned in North Korea. When asked whether he confronted Kim about Warmbier’s death, Trump said Kim denied responsibility and that he takes him “at his word,” bringing to mind Trump’s deference to other autocrats, like Vladimir Putin and Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. “I did speak about it, “Trump said of Warmbier. “I don’t believe that [Kim] would have allowed it to happen. It just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen. Those prisons are rough. They’re rough places. Bad things happened. But I really don’t believe he knew about it. He felt badly about it.”

Though talks broke down on Thursday, the Trump administration remains optimistic that the two sides can reach an agreement. “The two leaders discussed various ways to advance denuclearization and economic driven concepts,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “No agreement was reached at this time, but their respective teams look forward to meeting in the future.” Trump, too, expressed hope that a deal can be made in the future. ‘There’s a warmth that we have and I hope that stays,” he said of his relationship with Kim. “I think it will. But we’re positioned to do something very special.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “we made real progress” and that he hopes a deal will be reached “in the weeks ahead.” When Pompeo visited North Korea following Trump and Kim’s first summit last June, North Korean officials called Pompeo “gangster-like” and said the trip was “deeply regrettable.” The two sides continued to meet throughout 2018, but they struggled to find common ground. Meanwhile, reports citing U.S intelligence revealed that not only was North Korea not denuclearizing, in many cases the nation was expanding its capabilities. Trump was noncommittal when asked about the intelligence community’s assessment on Thursday. “Well, some people are saying that, and some people are denying that. They have shots from above, way above. And some people are saying that and some people aren’t.”

“The denuclearization is a very important word, has become a very well-used word,” the president added. “And a lot of people don’t know what it means, but to me it’s pretty obvious we have to get rid of the nukes.”

Later, while trying to rationalize the aborted summit, Sean Hannity explained on Fox & Friends that Trump’s strategy was contained within The Art of Deal, and that the media should stop worrying about the administration’s constantly changing narrative regarding North Korean denuclearization. “The president was so clear all week in telegraphing that he doesn’t want to rush this, that he prefers a good deal and if it takes time it takes time,” said Hannity.

Just as a reminder, Trump said a day after meeting with Kim last June that North Korea was “no longer” a nuclear threat to the United States.

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