Officials say Donald Trump overstated Kim Jong Un's demand on sanctions

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — President Donald Trump said he walked away from his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un because Kim demanded the U.S. lift all of its sanctions, a claim that North Korea's delegation called a rare news conference in the middle of the night to deny.

So who's telling the truth? In this case, it seems that the North Koreans are. And it's a demand they have been pushing for weeks in lower-level talks.

Trump's much-anticipated meeting with Kim, held in the Vietnamese capital Wednesday and Thursday, ended abruptly and without the two leaders signing any agreements. Trump spoke with reporters soon after the talks broke down and said the dispute over sanctions was the deal breaker.

"Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn't do that," he said. "We had to walk away from that."

Hours later, two senior members of the North's delegation told reporters that was not what Kim had demanded. They insisted Kim had asked only for partial sanctions relief in exchange for shutting down the North's main nuclear complex. Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said the North was also ready to offer in writing a permanent halt of the country's nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

Vice Foreign Minister Choe Sun Hui said Trump's reaction puzzled Kim and added that Kim "may have lost his will (to continue) North Korea-U.S. dealings."

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U.S. President Donald Trump boards Air Force One after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
U.S. President Donald Trump boards Air Force One after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to board Air Force One after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
U.S. President Donald Trump reacts during a news conference after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at the JW Marriott Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leaves a news conference at the JW Marriott Hanoi in Hanoi, following talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 28, 2019. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
U.S. President Donald Trump accompanied by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the JW Marriott Hanoi, following talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 28, 2019. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
A view of the table in the room which was supposed to host a working lunch between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, that was cancelled, during the second U.S.-North Korea summit at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un listens as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the extended bilateral meeting in the Metropole hotel during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
White House national security adviser John Bolton reacts beside U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the extended bilateral meeting in the Metropole hotel with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (not pictured) during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un walk in the garden at the Metropole hotel during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump talk in the garden of the Metropole hotel during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
A customer watches a set of TV's broadcasting a news report on a Hanoi summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands before their one-on-one chat during the second U.S.-North Korea summit at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
People read the Rodong Sinmun newspaper showing coverage of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un visiting Vietnam for a summit in Hanoi with US President Donald Trump, on Kim Il Sung square Pyongyang on February 28, 2019. - The US-North Korea nuclear summit in Hanoi ended abruptly without a deal, with President Donald Trump saying he had decided to 'walk' in the face of Kim Jong Un's demands to drop sanctions. (Photo by Kim Won Jin / AFP) (Photo credit should read KIM WON JIN/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korean students read the Rodong Sinmun newspaper coverage of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un visiting Vietnam for a summit in Hanoi with US President Donald Trump, on Kim Il Sung square Pyongyang on February 28, 2019. - The US-North Korea nuclear summit in Hanoi ended abruptly without a deal, with President Donald Trump saying he had decided to 'walk' in the face of Kim Jong Un's demands to drop sanctions. (Photo by Kim Won Jin / AFP) (Photo credit should read KIM WON JIN/AFP/Getty Images)
The motorcade of North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un arrives at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim sounded an optimistic note at the start of their second set of face-to-face meetings, as the U.S. leader sought to advance nuclear talks that have largely stalled since their first summit in June. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Police outriders lead U.S. President Donald Trump's motorcade to the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sounded an optimistic note at the start of their second set of face-to-face meetings, as the U.S. leader sought to advance nuclear talks that have largely stalled since their first summit in June. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump's motorcade arrives at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sounded an optimistic note at the start of their second set of face-to-face meetings, as the U.S. leader sought to advance nuclear talks that have largely stalled since their first summit in June. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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The State Department then clarified the U.S. position.

According to a senior official who briefed the media on condition he not be named because he was not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly, the North Koreans "basically asked for the lifting of all sanctions."

But he acknowledged the North's demand was only for Washington to back the lifting of United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed since March 2016 and didn't include the other resolutions going back a decade more.

What Pyongyang was seeking, he said, was the lifting of sanctions that impede the civilian economy and the people's livelihood — as Ri had claimed.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed nearly a dozen resolutions targeting North Korea, making it one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world. So Kim was indeed seeking a lot of relief — including the lifting of bans on everything from trade in metals, raw materials, luxury goods, seafood, coal exports, refined petroleum imports, raw petroleum imports.

But Kim wasn't looking for the lifting of sanctions on armaments. Those were imposed earlier, from 2006, when the North conducted its first nuclear test. For Pyongyang, that's a key difference.

Deemed that to be a bridge too far 

While it claims that its nuclear weapons are needed for self-defense, it was offering to at least for the time being accept sanctions directly related to nuclear weapons and missile technology. But the North has always considered the imposition of sanctions on other areas of trade even more nefarious and was singling them out as their negotiation point.

The State Department official said Trump and his negotiators deemed that to be a bridge too far because they had already determined that lifting the post-2016 sanctions would be worth "many, many billions of dollars" for the North and could essentially be used to fund their continued nuclear and missile programs.

So it was definitely a robust demand. But it wasn't, as Trump claimed, all the sanctions.

It also didn't come as a surprise. He said the North had been pushing that demand for weeks in lower-level talks.

Even so, both sides seemed determined to put a good face on the summit, which Trump said was generally friendly and constructive.

In a much softer tone than the officials at the late-night news conference, the North's state-run media made no mention of Trump's decision to walk away without any agreements and indicated that the North was looking ahead to more talks.

"The top leaders of the two countries appreciated that the second meeting in Hanoi offered an important occasion for deepening mutual respect and trust and putting the relations between the two countries on a new stage," it said. "They agreed to keep in close touch with each other for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the epochal development of the DPRK-U.S. relations in the future."

It said Kim expressed his thanks to Trump for making positive efforts for the successful meeting and talks "while making a long journey and said goodbye, promising the next meeting."

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