President Donald Trump on Thursday again downgraded expectations for a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea, saying it could be a year before U.S. officials know if Kim Jong Un is serious about shutting down his weapons programs.
White House officials have been scrambling to respond to a media report that Kim is rebuilding a missile testing facility, a move that contradicts his pledge to hold off on nuclear and missile tests while engaged with the Trump administration about giving up that program and his nuclear weapons.
Trump said earlier this week he would be “disappointed” if North Korea was rebuilding the test facility. His national security adviser, John Bolton, repeated that in a Thursday morning television interview. But Bolton also said Trump remains “open” to a third one-on-one summit with Kim even though the second one last week in Hanoi abruptly collapsed.
Despite that high-profile failure — which U.S. officials say came when Kim demanded immediate sanctions relief before giving up any weapons programs — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the time alongside the president in Vietnam that “we made real progress.”
Trump began trying to tamp down expectations for the Hanoi summit a few weeks before he left. During its first day last Tuesday, he signaled the second summit was unlikely to yield a final deal.
“I’m sure over the years we’ll be together a lot, and I think we’ll also be together after the fact, meaning after the deal is made,” he told reporters during a photo opportunity with Kim.
The North Korean dictator assured Trump during a dinner last Wednesday evening that he would continue holding off on nuclear arms and missile tests. “I take him at his word. I hope that that’s true,” the president said in Hanoi.
But the president’s optimism about a final deal with Kim appeared to wane a bit after the report about the missile test facility.
“We’ll let you know in about a year,” Trump said when asked about the report.
The president also reiterated his disappointment with the reported facility work. Reporters were then ushered out of the Oval Office as Trump declined to take more questions during a meeting with his Czech counterpart.
The report marked the second time in a week that Trump has been bruised by his outreach to North Korea, even though Republican and Democratic members applauded him for ending the summit rather than agreeing to what they said would have been a bad deal.
“Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that,” Trump told reporters in Hanoi. “We had to walk away from it.”
The president wrote in his book “The Art of the Deal” that one must know when to leave negotiations, saying exiting can bring the other side back to the table with more favorable terms.