HANOI -- U.S. President Donald Trump's vision of a "very tremendous summit" with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un failed to materialize after the American leader's suggestion to go "all-in" on denuclearization was not met by his counterpart.
Each side apparently overestimated the other's readiness to compromise. Now the chances of another summit, let alone a nuclear deal, are dimming -- especially as foreign policy hawks once again gain clout in Washington.
"The president encouraged Chairman Kim to go all-in, and we were going to go -- we were prepared to go all-in as well," a senior State Department official told reporters after the two-day summit, which ended Thursday.
But all Kim offered was to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex -- the crown jewel of the North's nuclear program but still just one part of a greater puzzle. "They wanted to de-nuke certain areas, and I wanted everything," Trump later told Fox News.
The U.S. questions even the offer on Yongbyon. The complex comprises more than 300 different facilities, and Pyongyang "struggled to give us a precise definition" of exactly what it was offering to dismantle, the State Department official said. North Korea is also believed operate a covert uranium enrichment facility called Kangson as well as missile bases outside the complex.
"We know the country very well, believe it or not," Trump told a news conference after the summit. "We know every inch of that country."
"We brought many, many points up that I think they were surprised that we knew," including the existence of Kangson, he said.
In exchange, Kim asked for a lifting of sanctions to provide much-needed relief to the North Korean economy. The United Nations Security Council has imposed 11 rounds of sanctions on the North since 2006, resulting in an embargo on 90% of its exports, including coal and textiles, and tough restrictions on oil products entering the country.
North Korea called on the U.S. to lift penalties that impact the private sector and civilian life in the lead-up to the summit and claims that it only requested relief for five of the 11 rounds of U.N. sanctions. Just exempting joint economic projects with South Korea, such as the Kaesong industrial complex and the Mount Kumgang resort, could give the North valuable access to outside cash.
The State Department official rebuffed North Korea's position, stressing that Pyongyang asked for a lifting of "basically all the sanctions" except those directly related to weapons "to the tune of many, many billions of dollars."
Trump easily could have given in. A deal with Kim would help him at home, where he faces growing pressure from congressional testimony by his former attorney Michael Cohen. But the president was advised by senior members of his national security team, including National Security Adviser John Bolton, that he should walk away from the talks if they proved unfruitful, CNN reports.
In fact, many were optimistic for a deal until the second day of negotiations, when Bolton -- who has previously advocated a pre-emptive strike on North Korea -- joined the table. Shortly before the meeting ended, news broke that the two sides were canceling a luncheon and a signing ceremony for an agreement.
Meanwhile, North Korea insists that it offered more than its fair share of concessions. In a predawn impromptu news conference on Friday, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said that the North offered to promise in writing that it will completely and permanently dismantle all nuclear facilities at Yongbyon in the presence of U.S. experts and permanently halt nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches.
"We will not change our position even if the U.S. calls for a renegotiation," Ri said.
Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui also slammed the U.S. for making "impossible demands" in a Friday interview with South Korean media. "I got the sense that Chairman Kim Jong Un could lose his interest in further talks in response to the U.S.," she said.
It is unclear how much more North Korea is willing to give on denuclearization. "Kim Jong Un cannot abandon the nuclear program, which has been passed on from his grandfather and father, so he cannot meet American demands," a former South Korean intelligence official said.