TOPSHOT-VIETNAM-US-NKOREA-DIPLOMACY-SUMMITTOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un following a meeting at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on February 27, 2019. (Photo by Saul LOEB / AFP)

By Mike Burnard

The nuclear summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has collapsed after the two sides failed to reach a deal due to a stand-off over US sanctions and North Korean denuclearisation — a stunning end to high-stakes meetings meant to disarm a global threat. In a news conference after the abrupt end to the talks, Mr Trump said the breakdown occurred over North Korea’s insistence that all punishing sanctions the US had imposed be lifted without Pyongyang committing to eliminate its entire nuclear arsenal.  “Sometimes you have to walk,” Mr Trump said, adding that an agreement was “ready to sign”.  “I’d much rather do it right than do it fast,” the President added. (Australia Broadcasting Network)

The Hanoi Summit

The second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un was held in Hanoi, Vietnam on 27-28 February. According to NPR reporter Anthony Kuhn, everything went according to plan on Wednesday as the two had a one-on-one meeting before starting broader conversations with advisors on Thursday. After those discussions, Mr Trump announced that the summit would end prematurely. A signing ceremony was planned for Thursday, as both sides anticipated reaching an agreement.

The first summit between the two leaders in June 2018 was marked by an agreement to work toward denuclearisation, however the two failed to outline specific steps to achieve this, something they once again avoided in Hanoi.  A stumbling block in the negotiations for the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula has been that the US and North Korea have different understandings of what denuclearisation means.  According to The Hill, Mr Kim agreed to denuclearise many of the areas Mr Trump wanted, but Mr Trump would not “lower his expectations” and take that deal, he is aiming for a complete denuclearisation.

What has been achieved 

In the light of unmet expectations, it is understandable that media reports mostly focused on the apparent failure of the meeting rather than focussing on the progress made compared to a year ago.  While most headlines declared the meeting a “failure”, the truth is that the threat of military escalation on the Korean peninsula is far less now than when Mr Trump began his diplomatic outreach to Kim Jong-un a year ago.   South Korea has also benefited and has new and more stable relations with Pyongyang.  Despite not signing a formal agreement, there was some progress in key areas.

The respective leaders continue to engage in peace talks. Mr Trump still has a better chance of achieving a breakthrough with North Korea than any of his predecessors. Several rounds of bilateral and multilateral negotiations on denuclearisation dating back to the 1990s have failed.  After the June 2018 meeting in Singapore between Mr Trump and Mr Kim, both leaders committed to continue the process of seeking peace.  “He (Kim) has a certain vision and it’s not exactly our vision, but it’s a lot closer than it was a year ago and I think eventually we’ll get there,” Mr Trump said after the meetings ended.

Mr Kim is talking to the media. In an unprecedented back-and-forth exchange with journalists, Mr Kim insisted he was open to denuclearisation, though he didn’t specify what he understood that to mean.  This exchange with foreign journalists is believed to be the first time Mr Kim has answered a question from a foreign journalist, a landmark event for the “iron-fisted dictator”.  He went on to say (through an interpreter): “If I’m not willing to do that I won’t be here right now.”

There has been a cessation in missile-testing. According to Wikipedia, North Korea has fired a number of missiles into the Sea of Japan (Korea’s East Sea), in what has been interpreted as acts of political aggression.  As of 30 November 2017, North Korea had carried out 117 tests of strategic missiles since its first such test in 1984. Under Kim Il-sung there had been 15 such tests, while under his son, Kim Jong-il there were 16. Under Kim Jong-un, more than 80 tests have been undertaken.  However, since their historic meeting in Singapore in 2018, no missiles have been fired.

There were also some concessions on the part of the US as they suspended a series of high-profile military exercises with South Korea, that North Korea viewed as a prelude to invasion.

The current situation 

The two main obstacles to reaching an agreement remains the demand from the US for a total denuclearisation by North Korea, and from North Korea, an expectation that all sanctions be lifted.

According to Al Jazeera, US officials estimate that North Korea has as many as 60 nuclear warheads.  In September 2016, Siegfried Hecker of Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC, estimated that North Korea produced enough highly enriched uranium to make six additional nuclear bombs a year. The Hwasong-15, North Korea’s furthest-reaching intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), could theoretically travel about 13,000 km. This potentially puts the whole world within range, except for Latin America and Antarctica.

On 14 October 2006, the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 1718, condemning North Korea’s first nuclear tests and banning the supply of heavy weaponry, missile technology and select luxury goods.  On 2 March 2016, the UNSC adopted resolution 2270 expanding sanctions to include the supply of aviation fuel.  By the end of December 2017 sanctions included a ban on mineral exports, the selling of statues and helicopters, coal and iron exports, oil imports, and agricultural and labour exports.


Hebrews 12:14 says “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone.”

What was more disconcerting than the meeting not reaching a favourable conclusion, was the fact that some news media sources found joy in Mr Trump’s apparent “failure” to secure a peace agreement.  A determined ‘anti-Trump media campaign’ on the part of some journalists seems quite willing to see society destroyed just so that they can have the satisfaction of saying “I told you so”.  The biggest threat to peace efforts is often found in suspicion, speculation, and self-proclaimed assumptions.  Christians need to guard against demonising people-groups or individuals at the cost of sacrificing Biblical principles.  The effort of seeking peace should take preference over any individual.  Both Mr Trump and Mr Kim (and all those involved) should be applauded for “making every effort to live in peace” in the midst of chaotic times.


  • For a continuation of peace efforts between the United States and North Korea
  • For increased cooperation between North and South Korea
  • For strength for the North Korean Church to remain faithful during turbulent times