The Korea Herald


Attempt at big deal leads to collapse in talks

Trump says nuclear negotiations will continue, but failure casts pall over future prospects

By Park Han-na

Published : Feb. 28, 2019 - 21:46

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US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un left their Hanoi summit empty-handed as Washington demanded a bolder move from Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program.

The US seems to have wanted a denuclearization deal that goes far beyond the dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear complex, while North Korea offered the shutdown of the main site in exchange for the complete lifting of US-led sanctions, according to Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a press conference in Hanoi after the US-North Korea summit Thursday. 

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un take a walk after their first meeting at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP-Yonhap) U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un take a walk after their first meeting at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP-Yonhap)

“We have to have sanctions, and he wants to denuke, but he wants to just do areas that are less important than the areas that we want,” Trump said.

Yongbyon, believed to account for some 50-70 percent of North Korea’s nuclear capability, has been seen as North Korea’s key bargaining chip but the site appears to not be enough for Trump to lift sanctions that are crippling Pyongyang’s economy.

About 100 kilometers north of Pyongyang, some 400 buildings are densely packed at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Complex dedicated to advancing the country’s nuclear capabilities. It has a 5-Megawatt electric reactor that is capable of producing 7 kilograms of plutonium a year and a uranium enrichment facility, which was built in 2009.

During the press conference, Trump said the US had found some hidden nuclear facilities, including a uranium enrichment plant.

“There’s other things you haven’t talked about that we found that the people didn’t know about. And we brought many points up. I think they were surprised we knew,” he said. “We had to have more than that because there are other things that you haven’t talked about and you haven’t written about,” Trump said.

The US previously hinted at having clinched a big deal with North Korea, saying the communist state had made a pledge that goes beyond the dismantlement of Yongbyon.

“This complex of sites extending beyond Yongbyon represents the totality of the North Korean plutonium-reprocessing and uranium-enrichment programs,” Biegun said at Stanford University on Jan. 31.

Some critics have been arguing that the dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear facility will not be a meaningful step toward complete denuclearization, as North Korea has continued to develop ways to produce nuclear material by enriching uranium.

The dismantlement of Yongbyon’s uranium enrichment plant would reduce, but not necessarily end, the North’s capability to produce highly enriched uranium, given the likelihood that other plants exist offsite, they said.

During the press conference, Pompeo suggested that North Korea had fallen short of the US’ expectations.

“Even that facility in all of its scope which is important for sure, still leaves missiles and war heads and weapons systems. So there’s a lot of other elements we couldn’t get to. And the listing of all of them and the declaration,” he said.

Cheong Seong-chang, vice president of research planning at the Sejong Institute, said that demanding a wide range of concessions, from the nuclear program to the declaration of warheads and missiles, is unrealistic when distrust still exists between the countries.

“(The failed deal) shows that the ‘denuclearization first, rewards later’ strategy of the US will not be accepted by North Korea any more. It seems that the US may have to accept the “Yongbyon plus alpha” deal and give it the end-of-war declaration and a liaison office as corresponding measures,” said Ko Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.

By Park Han-na (