Ambassador Kathleen Stephens on Outcomes from Hanoi Summit

By Kathleen Stephens

The second summit between President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un ended without an agreement. But the engagement provided insights into the negotiating positions and styles of both Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. KEI will continue to assess the implications of the Hanoi outcome. Here are some initial observations that we wanted to share with you in the hours following the meeting.

  • Kim Jong-un apparently placed even more emphasis on sanctions relief than most observers predicted. This underscores the importance he attaches to domestic economic growth.
  • If reports are correct, it is notable that a general agreement on exchanging liaison offices and issuing some kind of end-of-war statement was insufficient to persuade Kim to take further denuclearization steps.
  • President Trump signaled his determination to see significant denuclearization steps before sanctions relief, contrasting with the view that he was overeager to make a deal.
  • The summit impasse highlighted the importance of working-level talks but simultaneously narrowed the range of options for these discussions in the short-term. Nonetheless, it is more important than ever for both leaders to empower working-level negotiators to get back to the table.
  • During his press conference, President Trump remained optimistic about the prospect of future negotiations and Secretary of State Pompeo explicitly highlighted the U.S. government’s attention to detail on sequencing. We will need to watch for signals from North Korea on its readiness to resume negotiations.
  • The absence of an agreement complicates Seoul’s efforts to advance inter-Korean economic cooperation. Continued close coordination between Seoul and Washington, including through the Working Group, will remain vital.
  • One thing to watch for will be if the United States takes a harder line on sanctions waiver for Korean economic cooperation and humanitarian assistance on the heels of this impasse in Hanoi.

Ambassador Kathleen Stephens (ret.) is the President & CEO of the Korea Economic Institute of America. Ambassador Stephens was a career diplomat in the United States Foreign Service from 1978 to 2015. She served as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea between 2008 and 2011.

White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

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