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How ‘overreach’ by Trump and Kim set summit up for failure

Talks fell apart between President Trump and Kim Jong Un at their second summit this week in Hanoi. Although Trump characterized the meeting’s tone as “very friendly” despite an early end, it nonetheless failed to achieve any of the administration’s stated goals. Judy Woodruff talks to Jung Pak of the Brookings Institution and Frank Jannuzi, president of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return to our top story, the collapse of talks at the second summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

    We're joined by two people with broad experience dealing with North Korea. Jung Pak held senior positions at both the CIA and within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, dealing with East Asia. She's now at the Brookings Institution. And Frank Jannuzi was a State Department analyst and supported the U.S. delegation for talks with North Korea during the Clinton administration. He's now president of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation.

    And we welcome both of you back to the "NewsHour."

    Frank Jannuzi, I'm going to start with you.

    What is your overall assessment of what happened with this collapse today?

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    Well, on the plus side, the two leaders avoided what I would call a catastrophic success.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    President Trump didn't agree to a deal which might have included a partial limitation on North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for widespread sanctions relief.

    I think that would have left the United States in a negotiating position that was quite weak to accomplish the ultimate goal of complete denuclearization.

    Also on the plus side, the two parties did narrow some of their differences. We now know that North Korea is prepared to take meaningful steps toward denuclearization in exchange for partial sanctions relief.

    But I think what happened here was perhaps a little bit of a U.S. overreach, of trying to put facilities beyond Yongbyon on to the negotiating table for the first time in a way that may have taken the North by surprise, and also a North Korean miscalculation about Trump's willingness to get a deal at any cost.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jung Pak, miscalculation on both sides? How do you see it?

  • Jung Pak:

    I do see it as miscalculation on both sides.

    I think the two men were so confident in their relationship and in their ability to go into this — into that room and to strike a deal that would be beneficial to both of them, that they really didn't anticipate the other side not giving in.

    And I think what happened was that Kim also overreached and that he is — faced his first diplomatic failure of sorts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Frank Jannuzi, President Trump has placed a lot of hope over the last number of months in coming up with some kind of deal with North Korea.

    No matter whose responsibility it was, what happened, how much of a disappointment is this for the United States?

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    Well, I think the president, for certain, is massively disappointed. He flew 7,000 miles. He ended up with a fizzle of a summit.

    But what will be important is what happens next. And Kim Jong-un has already signaled just in recent minutes his continued optimism about the process, and he anticipates another meeting with President Trump.

    And I think, for President Trump, he should avoid the mistake the U.S. made in 2002. At that time, at a time of tension in the relationship, the U.S. pulled back from dialogue and negotiations with North Korea, and that set in motion a period of North Korean escalation of their nuclear program.

    So we need to remain engaged.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Jung Pak, though, is there the appetite to do that on the part of the United States after this very spectacular disappointment?

  • Jung Pak:

    I think so.

    The president left the door wide open for additional conversations, and I think that's a good thing. He said that it wasn't a hostile walking away, but that it was a friendly walking away.

    And Kim's — the North Korean statements so far suggest that they're also interested in talking further.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How much does it matter, Frank Jannuzi, that there are two really different explanations from the two sides about what happened?

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    Well, it's not so uncommon, unfortunately, when you have a new team on the U.S. side to have disagreements about what has just transpired.

    But I think what is more important than their different interpretations of whether the U.S. overreached, or whether the North Koreans insisted on too much sanctions relief, I think what's more critical right at the moment is that we do have a narrowing of the differences over which facilities are crucial.

    The U.S. has basically said, we need to get a handle on all fissile material production, plutonium and uranium enrichment anywhere in the country. And the North has acknowledged that they're willing to do that in exchange for only partial sanctions relief.

    So we have still the basics for a deal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But if that — if there were the basics for a deal, the question is, Jung Pak, why couldn't they — why couldn't they make some progress when they were together face to face?

  • Jung Pak:

    I think — I think what's what's striking to me is that the two sides had a convergence of interests.

    And that was in the peace treaty or peace declaration and a liaison office. And Kim walked away from that. So that — what that suggests to me is that Kim is not interested in peace and normalization, as he is in sanctions removal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So — but what does that mean? I mean, in — that for all the conversation about that, that he's not leveling? I mean, how do you — how do you explain it?

  • Jung Pak:

    Yes, I think what that says is that Kim is — Kim wants to drag this process on, so that he can he can further cement his status, his claim status as a nuclear weapons power.

    It boosts his legitimacy. And it also increases his standing in the international community, as well as the strategic relevance.

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    This final point is critical that Jung Pak has made.

    For President Trump, the summit should be about denuclearization. But for Kim Jong-un, it's really about legitimacy, prestige and a sense of security. And this is why he will have third summit, fourth summit, fifth summit, because each summit actually bestows a certain amount of additional legitimacy and stature upon this North Korean dictator.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But is that in the interest of the United States to have summit after summit after summit, if it's not going anywhere?

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    Only if it leads to concrete steps, which is why I would hope that this summit should have been better prepared in terms of having an agreement in place before the two leaders met.

    If there's going to be a third summit, you should be darn sure that the working level talks should nail down what's going to happen before it happens. And maybe that's part of the learning curve with this president.

  • Jung Pak:

    Right.

    I hope, if there is a next summit — and I suspect that there will be a next summit — that we let the working level discussions move forward and advance the conversation, rather than having the two leaders in the room again, so we could have another set of status quo situation.

    So I think the lesson learned here is that the top level leadership conversations are good, they're OK for maintaining goodwill and momentum, but the working level processes are just as important, if not more.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, just quickly, bottom line from both of you. And you believe the will is there to get the — to make progress, to get something accomplished, to get an agreement?

  • Jung Pak:

    Yes, I do.

    I think Kim is in interested in getting the sanctions removal. And the fact that he pointed to the sanctions from 2016 and 2017 points to the fact that that's our leverage point. And without the military option out of the — with the military option out of the picture, sanctions are our only option and leverage.

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    And I agree.

    And I think, for President Trump, he wants it as a reelection accomplishment. He wants some form of peace and denuclearization. And he cannot afford to let this nuclear threat linger indefinitely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Frank Jannuzi, Jung Pak, we thank you both.

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    Thank you.

  • Jung Pak:

    Thank you.

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