The smiles are missing
  • Trump & Kim fail to shake hands finally

By Suresh Somu

Hanoi. 28 February 2019. For President Donald Trump meeting one of the world’s most notorious tyrants on a long-shot peace mission in Hanoi was a big gamble.

And it was a mission failed as Trump’s attempt at counter-programming did not produce results when the summit with Kim Jong Un broke up early with no agreement. It left the North Korea initiative — on which Trump has played huge political capital — in serious doubt.

It was embarrassing for the President and a big disappointment to anyone who understands how devastating a war on the Korean peninsula would be and would like to see the world’s last Cold War confrontation consigned to history.

Washington’s decision to offer Kim equal billing with the world’s most powerful man — a priceless propaganda coup — in two major summits and Trump’s entire impromptu and ego-centric negotiating style is now open to question.


Criticism that Trump is engineering summits with North Korea as big photo-ops that are devoid of substance looks more valid after his Hanoi trip. And his “art of the deal” diplomacy has come up empty-handed again.

On 27 February 2019, they met at Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, which the White House called a “social dinner” The next day, North Korea state media says leader Kim Jong-un exchanged “sincere and deep opinions” with Trump at their dinner meeting. All progressed well and good, for starters.

In the early part of the summit, Kim expressed concerns of time constraints when foreign journalists posed an array of questions. He said that face-to-face meeting with Trump was short and precious.

Indeed, the summit didn’t go according to plan. There was no signing ceremony and official lunch didn’t take place either. As Trump said: “Sometimes you have to walk at a press conference”.

Clearly, Trump is in absolute no rush as he said: “Speed is not important to me. What is important is that we do the right deal.”


Kim appeared to be a tougher bargainer and wanted complete sanctions lifted in their entirety that the US wasn’t prepared to do. In essence, Kim was ready to dismantle North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility in exchange for all sanctions lifted.

 It was a no-go as the US wanted other nuclear facilities disabled.

And to add on, Trump also reiterated that Kim pledged, “testing will not start” on rockets or missiles “or anything having to do with nuclear”.  And looking back, ever since the first summit in Singapore, there had been no nuclear testing.

So that’s reassuring especially when Kim responded to a question by a foreign journalist that he’s ready to give up his nuclear weapons otherwise, he wouldn’t be here.

Trump also made clear that the current status quo remains with North Korea as it will continue to suspend nuclear and missile tests, while the US would not take part in joint military exercises with South Korea.


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the breakdown of talks was partly caused by differences over the sequences of nuclear disarmament and sanctions relief. And the US wanted North Korea to put its current arsenal, consisting of several dozen warheads, some mounted on missiles, on the negotiating table as well, he said.

So the US wanted more from North Korea, which Kim was quite reluctant to accede. 

Severely hit by tough sanctions undoubtedly made North Korea economy crippled. And this is not what Kim wants for the country and his people. While he is enduring the sanctions as he seeks to build a legacy of economic growth seems to be a wishful thinking. And is treading on thin ice at the moment.

Meanwhile, China has taken a soft approach in terms of enforcing sanctions at the main border crossing at Dandong, which is giving some economic relief for Kim who is also playing with time. He is set to leave Hanoi by train on 1 March and is expected to meet China President Xi Jinping along the way.


So, in the end, it was disappointing as there wasn’t a triumphant finish. Mission failed.

But definitely more is set to unfold in the next couple of days especially when regional allies voice out their shell-shocked responses with the unexpected turnaround of events.

Especially for South Korean President Moon Jae-in.  By his books, it is a political disaster as no lifting of the international sanctions relates to continued restriction in trade and investment between the two Koreas.

Probably it is back to the drawing boards for another a long-shot peace mission. And, going by the pack of USA-North Korea cards, it’s like waging another big gamble of sorts.