President Donald Trump came back from his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi without striking any kind of agreement. And since he returned, he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been blaming that failure on almost anyone.
Let’s rewind, starting from when talks fell apart.
Shortly after cancelling a scheduled lunch and (it seems, optimistically) a scheduled signing ceremony on Thursday, the president spoke to the press and blamed the North Koreans for wanting too much.
“Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that,” said Trump. Later that day, as he was flying back to the United States, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho held a press conference disputing that claim.
He said that Pyongyang had “offered a realistic proposal” in order to start the denuclearization process, adding that it had only asked for a partial removal of U.S. sanctions in a reciprocal step for closing some of North Korea’s nuclear facilities.
In an interview with USA Today published on Sunday, Pompeo was either unaware of that statement or in denial about it ever happening. As the paper reported:
Pompeo reacted angrily when asked about the North Korean foreign minister’s statement, made hours after the talks dissolved, that the offer Kim made in Hanoi was final.
“That’s not what the North Koreans said,” Pompeo responded. “Don’t say things that aren’t true. … Show me the quote from the North Koreans that said this was their one and only offer. Where’d you get that?”
After he was read a quote from Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho… Pompeo fell silent for about six seconds. Then he countered, “What they said is they’re prepared to continue conversations with us and that’s what we intend to do.”
North Korea’s foreign minister, by the way, made the comment in a public press conference in Hanoi. It was widely reported and quoted.
National Security Adviser John Bolton, meanwhile told Face the Nation on Sunday that the talks collapsed owing to North Korea’s unpredictability — a different analysis from the president’s.
“We don’t know what’s on the table from North Korea until it comes from the mouth of Kim Jong-un, the chairman,” said Bolton, who added that Trump had not failed since he hadn’t offered the North Koreans anything they would accept, an argument that seems counter to the essence of negotiation.
After blaming North Korea for asking for too much, Trump took to Twitter on Sunday to blame “the Democrats” for interviewing Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney and fixer. Cohen’s damaging testimony last week framed Trump as a “liar” and “con man.”
This is an interesting take, given that some felt the president had arranged the Hanoi summit (which he announced during his State of the Union address) to distract from the testimony. Instead, he seems to have been distracted by the Cohen hearing, which was widely viewed and was a ratings bonanza for the networks.
While the administration continues to look for someone to blame — and gives different reasons why it is their fault — Trump continues to deal with the backlash over his comments about American college student Otto Warmbier.
The University of Virginia student was detained while on a guided tour in North Korea, was sent home unconscious, and died shortly thereafter. While still in Hanoi, Trump told reporters that Kim told him “he didn’t know about it.” adding “and I will take him at his word.”
He drew immediate criticism, from the Warmbier family and from bipartisan lawmakers. On Friday, Trump said on Twitter that he had been “misinterpreted” and at a CPAC speech the following day, he said what happened to Warmbier “was so bad.”
It remains to be seen when the next set of Trump-Kim talks will take place, though perhaps realizing that there should be some “give” on the U.S. position, over the weekend, acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan spoke to his South Korean counterpart and agreed to call off two major joint military exercises.
North Korea has long said it views those huge drills (one of them includes a combined 230,000 troops) as an act of aggression.