Editorial: U.S., North Korea summit ends without agreement, leaders must continue negotiations for denuclearization

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have ended their second summit without reaching an agreement on denuclearizing North Korea. This summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea was held in Hanoi, Vietnam, eight months after their first meeting.

Although the details of their discussion have not been made available, the leaders apparently chose to start over instead of signing a half-baked agreement. There had been some indications that President Trump was desperate to achieve appreciable results in the field of diplomacy, about which he can wield broad discretion, as he hopes to win re-election next year. He wisely decided not to sign an agreement lacking in substance.

The U.S. administration has indicated that it intends to continue these talks with North Korea. We hope the leaders will keep working tirelessly for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The two-day summit took place in a peaceful atmosphere up to a certain point. The leaders were supposed to sign a joint agreement yesterday. In their expanded bilateral meeting held in the final stages of the summit, Mr. Kim directly answered questions from foreign reporters, which was very unusual. He welcomed the idea of setting up a U.S. liaison office in Pyongyang, to which President Trump agreed by saying it was “a good idea.” The meeting seemed to have been going smoothly.

So why did the summit come to an abrupt end?

President Trump had repeatedly conveyed messages to the effect that the speed of this process was not important as long as North Korea did not conduct nuclear or missile tests or that he was not in a hurry. Mr. Kim may have viewed this as desirable.

After the summit, Mr. Trump said at a news conference that Mr. Kim brought forward a seemingly high-handed claim. North Korea “wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety,” said Mr. Trump.

If North Korea wants to gain the lifting of sanctions, it is absolutely necessary that the country provide a road map for complete denuclearization. The joint statement of their first summit in Singapore says that North Korea will commit to working toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is Japan’s prime concern. A basic premise for this is that North Korea will accurately declare the nuclear weapons and nuclear-related facilities it possesses. In other words, it is not until we see the big picture that we can pave the way for full denuclearization.

It is only natural that the United States walked away from the summit. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was also in the expanded meeting, said, “We are certainly closer today than we were 36 hours ago.” Then the leaders should have sat next to each other at the press conference and given comments on the summit together. Mr. Pompeo’s statement sounds like bravado.

During the eight months following their first meeting, no concrete progress was made. This is why the leaders decided to seek a way to overcome the impasse through direct negotiations.

It has been reported that President Trump spoke with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the phone after the summit, telling him that the president took up the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea, another important issue for Japan. Since the negotiations over issues involving the United States and North Korea took time, it is not known how deeply the leaders discussed the abduction issue. North Korea should be encouraged to realize that resolving the abduction issue would be highly regarded by the United States.

Mr. Abe must continue to remind the United States that they should not yield an inch in such issues as denuclearization and abductions. The clear goal must be “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” so that North Korea cannot find a loophole to hide radioactive materials.

(Originally published on March 1, 2019)