As It Happens

'Trump did the right thing to walk away from a bad deal' with N. Korea, says advocate

Trump said the negotiations at the nuclear summit in Vietnam broke down because North Korea refused to commit to eliminating its entire nuclear arsenal until the U.S. lifted sanctions against the regime.

Talks broke down after North Korea demanded sanctions be lifted with no promise to denuclearize, Trump says

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. (Leah Millis/Reuters)


U.S. President Donald Trump was right to walk away from discussions with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un on Thursday, says the head of an organization that represents Korean-Americans. 

Trump said the negotiations at the nuclear summit in Vietnam broke down because North Korea refused to commit to eliminating its entire nuclear arsenal until the U.S. lifted sanctions against the regime. 

North Korea's foreign minister says the country only asked for partial relief of U.S. sanctions.

Political scientist Abraham Kim, executive director of the Council of Korean Americans, told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann he's disappointed by the results, but hopeful for the future. 

Here is part of their conversation. 

Would you go so far as to call this meeting a complete bust?

I would not ... I think there is still hope in negotiations happening after this, but it is a disappointment that we did not reach an agreement toward a clear roadmap toward denuclearization and ... peace on the Korean peninsula. 

So who or what do you think is to blame for the fact that the two sides could not come to further agreement?

First of all, denuclearization, we've been dealing with this issue for a couple of decades now, so it is a very difficult and complex issue, and the stakes are very high.

In particular, North Korea is in a better position than it was say 10,15 years ago. It has nuclear weapons. It has deliverables. So the cost in which to denuclearize is much higher for the international community.

And President Trump and the international community will see nothing short of denuclearization. It is a very large gap to fill.

So I think both sides are negotiating hard, and I think to achieve this, it will take time, and diplomacy is hard and sometimes we do need to walk away from the table to get people to regroup and reconsider their position and look for other areas of compromise.

Trump and Kim shake hands before their one-on-one chat Wednesday. Talks broke down between the two leaders on Thursday. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Clearly, if the North Koreans thought that they would get more concessions than they did when it came to the question of lifting sanctions, do you think that President Trump was right to walk away, given the limits that they were willing to put on what they were willing to give up?

Yes, I think President Trump did the right thing to walk away from a bad deal.

I think our leverage is the sanctions and our ability to put pressure on North Korea.

And I think the North Koreans have to ... understand that these pressures will not be lifted until they are held accountable and they move in a substantive way toward denuclearization. 

But, you know, it seems that the regime sees that nuclear program as its way of getting any kind of attention from the rest of the world. It seems to be the thing that they hang onto to feel like their power will be assured. Is it unrealistic to think this has to be all or nothing when it comes to denuclearization?

No, in fact, you're absolutely right.

For North Korea, this is the absolute important leverage that they have to not only draw the attention of the international community, but also to get economic development support and humanitarian support moving forward.

President Trump described the decision to end this summit saying, "This wasn't a walk-away like you get up and walk out. No, this was very friendly. We shook hands." What does that say to you? Is there an element of face-saving here for both leaders that allows the kind of progress you're hoping for going forward?

I would say it's more than just face-saving. It is a disappointment for both sides.

But it also opens the door for further conversations moving forward between the leaders.

In a news conference after the abrupt end to the talks, Trump said the breakdown occurred over North Korea's insistence that all punishing sanctions the U.S. had imposed on North Korea be lifted without Pyongyang committing to eliminate its entire nuclear arsenal. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

What's at stake for you and other Koreans and people of Korean descent who live abroad, especially given so many people have connections to families that have been torn apart?

Ultimately, our interest is to have peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

As you rightly indicated, the Korean community around the world have many families on the peninsula and we would ultimately like to see progress in North-South dialogue, as well as strengthening of relationships, and the opportunity for Koreans abroad to travel to North Korea — because many, especially here in the United States, do have family still living in North Korea that were separated 70 years ago in the Korean War.

As you can imagine, those people, many of them are quickly dying and so that window of opportunity to meet with these families ... is closing.

And so our ultimate interest is to see peace and stability on the peninsula and the opportunity to someday go into North Korea and then reunite those families.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Interview produced by Richard Raycraft. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.