Why US-North Korea talks collapsed

You may recall that the summit meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un held with much fanfare in Vietnam at the end of February ended abruptly, with a scheduled luncheon of the two leaders canceled and both parties leaving Vietnam immediately after with no joint communiqué. This was a sign that things ended badly but there was no explanation for what happened.

We now have some insight. Reuters says that it has seen a document that Trump gave Kim on that final morning that contained demands that had long been rejected by North Korea and they decided that the US was not serious and that it was not worth talking anymore.

On the day that their talks in Hanoi collapsed last month, U.S. President Donald Trump handed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a piece of paper that included a blunt call for the transfer of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and bomb fuel to the United States, according to the document seen by Reuters.

A lunch between the two leaders was canceled the same day. While neither side has presented a complete account of why the summit collapsed, the document may help explain it.

The document seems to have been the work of Trump’s hardline neoconservative advisor John Bolton who has long urged the so-called Libya model on North Korea.

The document’s existence was first mentioned by White House national security adviser John Bolton in television interviews he gave after the two-day summit. Bolton did not disclose in those interviews the pivotal U.S. expectation contained in the document that North Korea should transfer its nuclear weapons and fissile material to the United States.

The document appeared to represent Bolton’s long-held and hardline “Libya model” of denuclearization that North Korea has rejected repeatedly. It probably would have been seen by Kim as insulting and provocative, analysts said.

After the summit, a North Korean official accused Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of “gangster-like” demands, saying Pyongyang was considering suspending talks with the United States and may rethink its self-imposed ban on missile and nuclear tests.

What happened to Libya after it gave up its nuclear weapons program is something that North Korea does not need to be reminded of.

Seven years after a denuclearization agreement was reached between the United States and Libya’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, the United States took part in a NATO-led military operation against his government and he was overthrown by rebels and killed.

Last year, North Korea officials called Bolton’s plan “absurd” and noted the “miserable fate” that befell Gaddafi.

Jenny Town, a North Korea expert at the Washington-based Stimson Center think tank, said the content of the U.S. document was not surprising.

“This is what Bolton wanted from the beginning and it clearly wasn’t going to work,” Town said. “If the U.S. was really serious about negotiations they would have learned already that this wasn’t an approach they could take.”

Describing Bolton, one of the advocates of the Iraq invasion, as a ‘gangster’ is not that inaccurate. Trump had previously rejected the Libya model as an option. What is disturbing is that Bolton may now be calling the shots on such a delicate issue, taking advantage of Trump’s ignorance and laziness to push his agenda of US military adventurism.


  1. Dunc says

    Describing Bolton as a “gangster” is generous. I’d call him “a warmongering lunatic who should spend the rest of his life behind bars”.

  2. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 Dunc
    You are being a bit kind to him but I think you have it.

    The only thing that surprises me is how long it took for Reuters to nail down the story. Most of this was known by the second or third day after the breakdown of the talks. I suppose it was getting the documentary evidence.

    Rumour has it that the Kim and his people were in absolute shock. One just does not suddenly table new and unreasonable demands at summit. There had been months of negotiations leading up to the summit and there should have been no surprises.

    One should not table crazy new demands the day of the meeting. Apparently, Kim immediately assumed that the USA had no intention in negotiating in good faith and he walked. I cannot say I blame him. The Donald would probably not understand and as you say, Bolton is a warmonger lunatic.

    I understand the chef at the hotel was disappointed too. He had put a lot of time and effort into planning the meals. SCMP had a nice article about the catering. Kim is definitely a bon vivant.

  3. microraptor says

    Rump is probably the first person in history to have interacted with the North Korean government in a way that left them the mature and reasonable party.

    I was actually a little surprised when I heard this. Not that Rump would do something so terminally stupid, but I was expecting that Kim had done it just to show that they could make the US dance to their tune.

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