The president claimed Thursday that he had walked away from negotiations in Hanoi after Kim Jong Un demanded that all sanctions against the nation be lifted.
“Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that,” Trump said. “We had to walk away from that.”
But Pyongyang representatives called a late-night news conference later that day to correct Trump’s statements, saying that Kim wanted only economic sanctions imposed since 2016 lifted — and not any concerning weapons. In exchange, Kim offered to shut down the nation’s main nuclear complex — and was prepared to offer in writing a permanent halt to the nation’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, according to his officials.
North Korea’s account of the sanction issue was accurate, a State Department official said Friday in a briefing to the media. The Associated Press reported that Kim had sought the lifting of only United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed since March 2016 — not sanctions going back decades. The concession would have removed sanctions on a range of goods, but not weapons.
Kim’s position was no surprise, the official said, because it had been brought up repeatedly in lower-level talks. But Trump and his negotiators decided lifting the sanctions posed from 2016 onward was too much.
Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said Trump’s reaction puzzled Kim. She said that Kim “may have lost his will [to continue] North Korea-U.S. dealings,” the AP reported.
Trump on Friday, meanwhile, tried to backpedal from his comments Thursday that he believed Kim’s statement that he had no idea what had happened to American student Otto Warmbier while he was in a North Korean prison. Warmbier died after being returned to the U.S. in a vegetative state in 2017.
Kim “tells me he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word,” Trump said at a press conference in Hanoi.
Warmbier’s parents shot back in a statement that “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”
Trump responded that his words had been “misinterpreted,” that he “loves” Otto Warmbier, and “of course I hold North Korea responsible for his mistreatment and death.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly used a male pronoun to refer to Choe Son Hui.