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The Hanoi Summit Collapses

The Hanoi summit with North Korea has broken down with nothing to show for it:

President Trump and Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, abruptly ended their second summit meeting on Thursday after talks collapsed with the two leaders failing to agree on any steps toward nuclear disarmament or measures to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

“Sometimes you have to walk,” Mr. Trump said at an afternoon news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. He said Mr. Kim had insisted that all of the harsh United Nations sanctions imposed on the North be lifted in exchange for dismantling its most important nuclear facility but not other elements of its weapons program.

Prior to the summit, the administration had started lowering expectations for any agreement that might come out of the meeting. As it turns out, Trump and Kim couldn’t even meet those low expectations. The failure of the latest summit to deliver anything doesn’t come as a surprise, and it shows that the administration’s handling of diplomacy with North Korea has been badly flawed from the start. The gap between the North Korean and U.S. positions has been and remains too wide to close in the span of a short summit meeting, and in the absence of successful talks between lower-ranking officials these high-profile events are bound to disappoint.

Hawks will be relieved that Trump walked away, but the collapse of talks with North Korea is an unfortunate, foreseeable product of an ill-conceived and poorly-run diplomatic process. The administration started out with unreasonable expectations and maximalist demands, and only very late in the process did they start to recognize that this was getting them nowhere. Their fixation on North Korean disarmament at the expense of pursuing improved relations probably doomed the negotiations from the beginning, and their unwillingness to offer any sanctions relief up front gave North Korea little incentive to compromise. The administration was pursuing the wrong goal in the wrong way for far too long, and as president Trump is responsible for the failure of the policy.

Update: North Korea’s foreign minister disputes Trump’s description of their demands:

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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