At their first summit in Singapore last year, Trump and Kim came to an agreement that required North Korea to take steps towards complete denuclearization in exchange for an easing of sanctions. However, despite lofty aspirations and a friendly atmosphere, Trump and Kim failed to make any progress on these issues during their two-day summit in Hanoi, Vietnam earlier this week.
On Thursday, the White House announced the abrupt end of the negotiations. Trump held a press conference shortly afterward and said he had to walk away from the negotiations because North Korea wanted the sanctions lifted entirely prior to complete denuclearization.
Unprepared, Unrealistic Goals
On Wednesday, media reported that US negotiators were mulling dropping their demand for a full accounting of North Korean denuclearization given intelligence community reports that indicated Pyongyang had no intention to entirely dismantle its program.
The last minute report seemed to conflict with Trump’s actual demands during the talks, highlighting the US side was possibly ill-prepared and not on the same page in terms of objectives, defects experts have shed a light on.
University of Edinburgh Senior Lecturer Youngmi Kim told Sputnik Trump and Chairman Kim erred by believing they could resolve many extremely complex issues in a couple of face-to-face meetings. Instead, the meeting devolved into the proverbial "game of chicken" and brinksmanship.
"They leave everything until the last minute — either avoid or crash", the senior lecturer said. "I think denuclearization should be a longer process than two summits".
In Hanoi, however, both sides failed to do this work and the most crucial issues they tried to address only at the last minute.
Not to mention, the expectations gap was significant, Youngmi Kim claimed. The United States wanted a comprehensive deal that required complete denuclearization before sanctions would be lifted. Whereas North Korea wanted to take a gradual approach – if Washington would lift some of the harsher sanctions, Pyongyang would demolish the Yongbyon facility.
Professor Ruediger Frank, head of the University of Vienna's Department of East Asia Economy and Society, told Sputnik that Trump and Kim both came to the summit loaded with demands and without sufficient preparatory work by their staffs.
"Instead of having a document ready to be signed, the two leaders arrived with a set of maximum demands and minimal concessions", Frank said. "This [Hanoi talks] looks more like the beginning of an actual negotiating process, not like the result of months of bilateral talks".
The fact issues related to the nuclear test sites were raised during the talks between the two leaders in Hanoi, instead of at a working level meeting, could be interpreted in two ways, Frank suggested.
"It could be that the working level talks were only very superficial because the leaders wanted to discuss all the details by themselves", Frank said. "The other option is that someone from the US delegation whispered into Trump's ear at the right time, so that he brought up this issue for which North Korea was unprepared".
Cloudy Path Forward
After the talks US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that it will take some time for both sides to "regroup" but he is hopeful that the United States and North Korea would engage in working-level meetings in the near future.
Meanwhile, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho following the summit said that Pyongyang made realistic proposals, including dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear complex, in return for a partial lifting of sanctions.
Moreover, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Sun Hee is not ruling out the possibility that Kim could change his mind on future dialogue with Washington, South Korean media reported on Friday.
The United States reaction to the talks seems to suggest they are hoping for more dialogue while North Korea could be mulling other options — including looking to boost relations with Russia and China, experts said.
Youngmi Kim was confident that North Korea will have further negotiations with the United States although she warned that Pyongyang does have other alternatives.
"There is still a possibility to build further communication between North Korea and the US", the Edinburgh senior lecturer said. "At the same time, North Korea may build [an] alliance with maybe China and Russia".
Frank observed that Trump appears interested in dialogue while North Korea’s plans are more mysterious. However, Frank argued, unlike Kim’s intentions, his options are quite clear.
"Pyongyang has two options: Try to continue the dialogue with the US, or rely more on China", Frank concluded.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.