Trump-Kim summit 2019 in disarray as talks cut short

PHOTO: Reuters

Nuclear talks between the US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were in disarray Thursday as the two sides cancelled plans to hold a joint signing ceremony after making little progress on the way forward for Pyongyang to dismantle its decades-old push to be a nuclear power.

The first signs of trouble with the two-day summit in Hanoi came just past noon, when the White House told pool reporters a planned working lunch had been called off, and that Trump would return to his hotel for a press conference two hours earlier than expected - at 2pm local time. The White House said later that "no agreement was reached".

Both sides had scheduled a "joint signing ceremony" at 2.05pm, with Trump supposed to hold a press conference at 3.50pm at the JW Marriott hotel where he is staying.

There had been little sign the leaders were locked in disagreement when they briefly spoke to the media earlier in the day, and during their dinner on Wednesday.

"We had a good discussion last night at dinner and pre-dinner was very good. We had a lot of great ideas being brought about … I think [North Korea] is going to be an economic powerhouse," Trump said during the one-on-one meeting on Thursday.

Kim also said: "We have made a lot of efforts so far and we thought that now is time to come to Hanoi to sit together and then have this wonderful dialogue … and let me assure you I'll do all my best to bring a good result ultimately today."

The North Korean leader also added at the beginning of the expanded meeting that he would not have come to Hanoi unless he wanted to denuclearise.

The two-day meeting in Hanoi was meant to build on the Singapore summit last June - an unprecedented meeting between sitting leaders of the United States and North Korea. At that summit, the two leaders agreed to a vague declaration on their commitment towards full denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

While few experts believed that would be achieved at the Hanoi summit, expectations were that there would at least be some progress.

The US and North Korea did not have an equal number of officials at the expanded meeting before the joint statement was cancelled.

A total of three senior officials accompanied Trump - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Only two North Korean officials were present - top nuclear negotiator Kim Yong-chol and Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.