Second DPRK-U.S. Summit

U.S. Undermines Principle of Action-for-Action

The Second Summit between Chairman Kim Jong Un, leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), and President Donald Trump of the United States which took place in Hanoi, Vietnam February 27 to 28, ended unexpectedly without an agreement.

News reports immediately prior to the summit suggested that the working-level meetings leading up to the summit had tentatively reached agreements to sign a symbolic declaration of peace that would conclude the Korean War; for the DPRK to repatriate further remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War; and for the DPRK and the U.S. to set up joint liaison offices in each other's countries. Regarding the nuclear issue and sanctions, it was said that the DPRK would suspend production of nuclear materials at the Yongbyon reactor in exchange for the U.S. urging the UN Security Council to provide the DPRK with partial sanctions relief, that would facilitate inter-Korean economic cooperation. None of this came to pass.

Recent developments indicate that a change in tactics by the U.S. to unilaterally undermine the principle of action-for-action necessary for these negotiations, in favour of an "all-or-nothing approach," prevented a further agreement from being reached at the Hanoi Summit.

As much as both sides said at the close of the Hanoi Summit that no doors have been shut to resolve their differences through negotiations, departing the summit on good terms and openly stating their disposition toward future talks, it has now become clear that as things currently stand there is objectively no basis on which the DPRK can take part in negotiations when the U.S. is dictating terms.

In that vein, the DPRK's Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, at a briefing for diplomats and foreign media in Pyongyang on March 15, said the DPRK was deeply disappointed by the failure of the two sides to reach any agreements at the Hanoi Summit, the Associated Press reported. She said the DPRK now has no intention of compromising or continuing talks unless the U.S. takes measures that are commensurate to the changes the DPRK has taken -- such as the 15-month moratorium on launches and tests -- and changes its "political calculation." She suggested that while Trump was more willing to talk, even highlighting the warm chemistry between the two leaders as "mysteriously wonderful," an atmosphere of hostility and mistrust was created by the uncompromising demands of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton. She noted that statements by senior Trump advisers since the summit have further worsened the climate. "Whether to maintain this moratorium or not is the decision of our chairman of the state affairs commission," she said, adding that this decision will be made shortly.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and south Korea announced that on March 2, U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and south Korean Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo decided to end the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle series of military exercises, according to a Pentagon statement, in an effort to "achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

The main factor not to be forgotten in all this is the role of the Korean people and their initiatives to strengthen inter-Korean relations. They remain the crux of resolving the intertwined issues of peace (including the removal of the U.S. nuclear threat) and reunification. The Korean people and their leadership have astutely assessed that inter-Korean relations should develop at the pace they themselves set, and are not tied to the development of DPRK-U.S. relations and its requirements.[1] Inter-Korean relations will continue to develop despite the truncated Hanoi Summit, and will surely contribute to the conditions needed for the DPRK and the U.S. to return to the table to make the required progress.

Proceedings of the Summit

The first day of the summit began with President Trump and Chairman Kim shaking hands and exchanging greetings, with some brief informal remarks to the press about 6:30 pm local time. This was followed by conversation, and a short one-on-one summit, before the two sides met for dinner at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. Also present at the dinner were Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on the U.S. side, and Workers' Party of Korea Vice Chairman and United Front Department Director Kim Yong Chol and Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on the DPRK side.

President Trump and Chairman Kim began the second day of the summit with a one-on-one meeting, followed by an expanded meeting. Altogether the meetings lasted about four-and-a-half hours. A working lunch had been scheduled for noon, with a signing ceremony for an expected agreement to follow around 2:00 pm. Trump was to give a press conference at 4:00 pm.

Around 12:30 pm, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced that the summit would be wrapping up in the next 30 to 45 minutes, and that Trump's press conference had been moved to 2:00 pm. "No agreement was reached at this time, but their respective teams look forward to meeting in the future," Sanders added.

U.S. Closing Press Conference and Stands Taken After Hanoi Summit

Trump said of the summit: "We had a really, I think, a very productive time. We thought, and I thought, and Secretary Pompeo felt that it wasn't a good thing to be signing anything. I'm going to let [U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] speak about it. [...] We spent pretty much all day with Kim Jong Un [...] And I think our relationship is very strong. But at this time -- we had some options, and at this time we decided not to do any of the options. And we'll see where that goes. But it was a very interesting two days. And I think, actually, it was a very productive two days. But sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times. And I'll let Mike speak to that for a couple of minutes, please."

Secretary Pompeo remarked in a similar vein: "We had been working, our teams -- the team that I brought to bear, as well as the north Koreans -- for weeks to try and develop a path forward so at the summit we could make a big step -- a big step along the way towards what the two leaders had agreed to back in Singapore, in June of last year.

"We made real progress. And indeed we made even more progress when the two leaders met over the last 24, 36 hours. Unfortunately, we didn't get all the way. We didn't get to something that ultimately made sense for the United States of America. I think Chairman Kim was hopeful that we would. We asked him to do more. He was unprepared to do that. But I'm still optimistic. I'm hopeful that the teams will get back together in the days and weeks ahead, and continue to work out what's a very complex problem.

"We have said, since the beginning, that this would take time. Our teams have gotten to know each other better. We know what the limits are. We know where some of the challenges are.

"And I think as we continue to work on this in the days and weeks ahead, we can make progress so that we can ultimately achieve what it is that the world wants, which is to denuclearize north Korea, to reduce risk for the American people and the people all around the world." In a March 4 speech in Iowa, Pompeo said that he hoped to send a team of negotiators to Pyongyang in the coming weeks, although he had yet to hear back from the DPRK on the matter.

Answering a question from a reporter about the possibility of a third summit, Trump replied, "Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn't do that. [Emphasis added.] They were willing to denuke a large portion of the areas that we wanted, but we couldn't give up all of the sanctions for that. So we continue to work, and we'll see. But we had to walk away from that particular suggestion. We had to walk away from that."

Trump's claim that the DPRK had requested something the U.S. could not accept was later revealed to be the opposite of what took place. In fact it was the U.S. that requested full denuclearization by the DPRK before it would consider providing any sanctions relief, which the DPRK clarified in its own press conference later that day (see below).

Remarks by U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen E. Biegen following the Hanoi Summit indicate a significant change in the U.S. position that undermines the requirement for a mutual step-by-step/action-for-action process by both sides as the basis for trust and progress in DPRK-U.S. relations, a change from the position he gave not long before the summit.

In a January 31 speech at Stanford University, Biegun remarked, "For our part, we have communicated to our north Korean counterparts that we are prepared to pursue -- simultaneously and in parallel -- all of the commitments our two leaders made in their joint statement at Singapore last summer, along with planning for a bright future for the Korean people and the new opportunities that will open when sanctions are lifted and the Korean Peninsula is at peace, provided that north Korea likewise fulfills its commitment to final, fully verified denuclearization.


"Chairman Kim qualified next steps on north Korea's plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities upon the United States taking corresponding measures. Exactly what these measures are, are a matter I plan to discuss with my north Korean counterpart during our next set of meetings. From our side, we are prepared to discuss many actions that could help build trust between our two countries and advance further progress in parallel on the Singapore summit objectives of transforming relations, establishing a permanent peace regime on the peninsula, and complete denuclearization."

On March 11, Biegun, speaking at the 2019 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, stated, "We are not going to do denuclearization incrementally. The President has been clear on that and that is a position around which the U.S. government has complete unity. Our goal, our objective is the final fully verified denuclearization of north Korea." Biegun went on to repeat the disinformation that an unacceptable position for full sanctions relief by the DPRK had blocked negotiations, and that nonetheless the U.S. would remain engaged diplomatically.

The U.S. refusal to reciprocate on the principle of action-for-action inherent to negotiations regarding the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula is what undermined the 1994 Agreed Framework and the 2005 Six-Party Talks.

DPRK's Clarification and Assessment of Summit

On the final day of the Hanoi Summit, DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho held a press conference to clarify his country's position and gave an assessment of how the proceedings went.

DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho

"We aren't asking for all the sanctions to be lifted, but only some of them. We're asking for relief from five of the UN Security Council's 11 sanctions resolutions, the ones adopted between 2016 and 2017, and in particular the aspects of those sanctions that interfere with the civilian economy and the people's livelihood," Ri said, as quoted by the south Korean newspaper the Hankyoreh. "We made a realistic proposal during this summit according to the principles of a step-by-step solution and confidence building that were jointly elaborated during our first summit in Singapore in June 2018," he added.

"Our proposal was that, if the U.S. lifts some of the UN sanctions, or in other words those aspects of the sanctions that impede the civilian economy and the people's livelihood, we will completely and permanently dismantle the production facilities of all nuclear materials, including plutonium and uranium, in the Yongbyon complex, through a joint project by technicians from our two countries, in the presence of U.S. experts," Ri said. "Given the current level of trust between our two countries, that's the biggest step toward denuclearization that we can take at the present moment."[2]

He went on to explain that, "What's even more important when it comes to us taking steps toward denuclearization is the issue of a security guarantee. But since we thought that the U.S. wasn't comfortable yet with taking military measures, we suggested partial relief from sanctions as a corresponding measure."

"During this summit, we also expressed our willingness to make a written pledge to permanently halt nuclear tests and long-range missile test launches in order to assuage the U.S. concerns," he noted.

Regarding how future talks might proceed, Ri stated, "When we move through the phase of confidence-building, we'll be able to make faster progress in the denuclearization process. But during the talks, the Americans never stopped insisting that we should do something in addition to shutting down the Yongbyon nuclear facilities, and as a consequence, it became clear that the U.S. wasn't prepared to accept our proposal. It's difficult to say at this moment whether a better agreement than the one we proposed can be reached at the current stage. Even this opportunity might not come again. This principled position of ours won't change in the slightest degree, and even if the Americans propose negotiations again, there won't be any changes in our plan,"

Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, taking questions from reporters after Minister Ri's remarks, went on to remark that Chairman Kim was not satisfied that conditions to sign an agreement had been met. Choi went on to say, as quoted by the Hankyoreh, "As Chairman Kim saw how the Americans were unwilling to even provide partial relief from sanctions resolutions on the civilian economy, I got the impression that he may have lost some of his excitement about making a deal with the Americans in the future."

She added, "In my observation of the summit, I got the feeling that Chairman Kim found it a little hard to understand the way the Americans make their calculations." She explained that the DPRK's offer was to "irreversibly and permanently shut down the Yongbyon nuclear complex in its entirety with all its nuclear facilities, including all the plutonium facilities and all the uranium facilities, in the presence of U.S. experts." Choe noted that this was an unprecedented offer and expressed concern that the U.S. had missed an important opportunity by not accepting it.


1. See "Deepening of Inter-Korean Relations," TML Daily, February 25, 2019.

2. The Security Council sanctions, among other things, ban the sale of dual-use technologies, vehicles, machinery and metals to the DPRK; freeze the financial assets of individuals in the DPRK accused of being involved in that country's nuclear program; ban the export of electrical equipment, coal, minerals, seafood and other foods from the DPRK, as well as agricultural products, wood, textiles and stones. The sanctions also ban the sale of natural gas to the DPRK and restrict its fishing rights. The sanctions have caused the DPRK decades of hardship, deprived it of trillions of dollars in lost trade revenue, and imposed collective punishment on its peace-loving people.

(With files from the Associated Press, Hankyoreh,,, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, KCNA,

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 9 - March 16, 2019

Article Link:
Second DPRK-U.S. Summit: U.S. Undermines Principle of Action-for-Action - Nick Lin


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