Hanoi: GETTING “TRUMPED”
REPORTERS DIARY FOR FEBRUARY 28, 2019:
It now seems apparent to me that from the moment Chairman Kim decided to stay at the same Hanoi hotel as Western journalists during the summit, he was laying the groundwork for two messages: “I deserve to be a global leader” and “I will engage publicly with the media to tell my story.”
Hanoi is where we first heard Kim answer questions from Western reporters. The Washington Post’s David Nakamura, a fellow colleague covering the White House – got the first question to the reclusive leader.
David shared his question right off his recorder:
“Chairman Kim, are you confident?” he asked. “Feeling good about a deal?”
“Well it’s too early to tell,” Kim responded, “but I wouldn’t say that I’m pessimistic. But what I feel right now….I do have a feeling that good results will come out.”
Reporters asked Kim about his willingness to take concrete steps to denuclearize to which Kim replied in Korean:
“If I was not, I wouldn’t be here.” And later, “That’s what we’re discussing.”
He went on to take other questions about his openness to establishing liaison offices in respective capitals – he welcomes it. When he got a question about human rights, he didn’t respond. Trump interjected; “We’re discussing everything.”
About an hour later, came news of the “program change.” Talks broke down, the White House canceled the signing ceremony and moved up the time for the presidential press conference.
Trump took over the narrative, holding forth for about an hour on what went wrong, taking questions from dozens of reporters – including me. (I asked about the role of China in the process.)
His version of events: Kim had asked for too much, a total lifting of US sanctions in exchange for a partial denuclearization, just one facility, Yongbyon.
“Sometimes you have to walk, and this was one of those times,“ said the president.
About 10 hours later, a surprise press conference. This time at Pyongyang’s request. They were determined that the world would know their version of events.
Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and a translator sat behind a table in a downtown Hanoi hotel and said Pyongyang had offered a “realistic” proposal:
“If the United States removes partial sanctions, mainly remove the articles of sanctions that hamper the civilian economy and the livelihood of our people in particular, we will permanently and completely dismantle all the nuclear material-productive facilities in the Yongbyon area..”
Other North Korean officials also contradicted Trump’s assertion that nuclear and missile tests would stay suspended – at Kim’s request.
Their version: they had OFFERED to permanently end those tests.
This time, they took no reporter questions.
Here in Hanoi, Pyongyang has achieved an outcome which – while not nuclear – still has tremendous disruptive capability worldwide.
This is where Kim Jong Un found his public voice outside the DPRK, and the leader from a single-party, single-family-run state, owned the media narrative surrounding the nuclear negotiations.