North Korea Contradicts Trump on Why Summit Collapsed; Says ‘Our Proposal Will Never be Changed’

By Patrick Goodenough | February 28, 2019 | 5:50pm EST
Kim Jong Un and President Trump during their curtailed summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Photo: Uriminzokkiri)

( – North Korea is partly disputing President Trump’s version of the cause of Thursday’s collapse of the summit in Hanoi, saying Kim Jong Un had asked for a “partial” easing of sanctions – not a complete lifting, as Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo maintain.

And, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters in the Vietnamese capital, the North Korean proposal as put to the Americans “will never be changed.”

“What we proposed was not the removal of all sanctions but their partial removal,” Ri said in an unexpected late-night statement.

Out of a total of 11 U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution, he said through an interpreter, Kim had called for the lifting of elements of five sanctions resolutions adopted in 2016-17, “that impede the civilian economy and the livelihood of our people.”

In return for that relief, Pyongyang’s foreign minister said, the North Korean delegation had offered to dismantle all of the nuclear material production facilities in the Yongbyon area.

The North Korean side had also committed to a permanent halt on nuclear and long-range ballistic missile testing, he added.

“This proposal was the biggest denuclearization measure we could take at the present stage in relation to the current level of confidence between the DPRK [North Korea] and the United States.”

However, Ri said, the U.S. had “insisted that we should take one more step besides the dismantlement of nuclear facilities in Yongbyon area. Therefore, it became crystal clear that the United States was not ready to accept our proposal.”

He said it was “difficult to say whether there might be better agreement than the one based on our proposal.”

“Our principle stance will remain invariable, and our proposal will never be changed – even though the United States proposes negotiation again in the future.”

Ri’s version differs from Trump’s in one key respect: When he spoke to media before leaving Hanoi earlier in the day, Trump said Kim had wanted all of the sanctions removed, and in exchange for partial, not full, denuclearization.

“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 wanted, but we couldn’t give up all of the sanctions for that.”

Trump said Kim agreed to dismantle the Yongbyon complex, but that the U.S. felt that “that facility, while very big, it wasn’t enough” to merit a full lifting of sanctions.

He said the U.S. wanted more than that, because it had also confronted Kim about other facilities that it had found, but which “people didn’t know about.” In response to a question, he confirmed that those other facilities included a second uranium enrichment plant.

Pompeo, speaking at the same press briefing, added that while Yongbyon was important, there was still the question of warheads, missiles and weapons systems – “so there’s a lot of other elements that we just couldn’t get to.”

(Photo: Uriminzokkiri)

Although the summit ended early and without agreement, Trump and Pompeo both indicated that the two sides had parted on good terms.

“This wasn’t a walk away, like you get up and walk out,” said Trump. “No, this was very friendly, we shook hands.”

“The departure was with an agreement that we would continue to work on what has been an incredibly difficult problem,” said Pompeo. “Both sides are resolved to achieve it, and everyone walked away in that spirit.”

Later, speaking to reporters en route to Manila, Pompeo hinted that the sides may have neared agreement on some other points, short of the main denuclearization issue.

When asked why they had not settled on matters such as setting up liaison officers in each other’s capitals, or an end-of-war declaration, he replied, “You should not assume that we didn’t come to agreement on a whole number of issues.”

While the work would continue, Pompeo said, “there have been lots of things that we’ve moved forward on, and I think we have a set of shared common understandings.”

That sense of optimism seemed at odds with the approach taken by his North Korean counterpart in his late-night briefing, particularly Ri’s assertion that, “Our proposal will never be changed, even though the United States proposes negotiation again in the future.”

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