President Donald Trump says he rebuffed an offer by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to dismantle its nuclear complex at Yongbyon if the United States ended all sanctions against North Korea.
"There was a potential we could've signed something today," Trump told reporters in Hanoi on Thursday. "I could've 100% signed something today. We actually had papers ready to be signed, but it just wasn't appropriate. I want to do it right. I'd much rather do it right than do it fast."
In a rare press conference, North Korean officials disputed Trump's account of the negotiations, claiming that Pyongyang "had 'offered a realistic proposal' to begin the process of denuclearization," Bloomberg News reports
"[The] U.S. not accepting our proposal is missing an opportunity that comes once in a thousand years, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-Hui told reporters.
Choe added that Kim "may have lost the will" to negotiate with Trump again, Bloomberg reported.
As of Thursday, there were no plans to suspend war games between the United States and South Korea, which are expected to take place next month, a U.S. official told Task & Purpose.
But Trump reiterated to reporters that he felt the war games were far too expensive.
"I was telling the generals – I said: Look, you know, exercising is fun and it's nice and they play the war games," Trump said during a news conference. "And I'm not saying it's not necessary, because at some levels it is, but at other levels it's not. But it's a very, very expensive thing. And you know, we do have to think about that too."
The president went into his summit with Kim saying he had high hopes that the two leaders could reach an agreement about North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Earlier on Thursday, Trump said that discussions with Kim were going well.
"I think that no matter what happens, we're going to ultimately have a deal that's really good for Chairman Kim and his country, and for us," Trump said." I think, ultimately, that's what's going to happen. That's where it's all leading. It doesn't mean we're doing it in one day or two days, but it's all leading toward a very -- a very big success."
Later, the president said he did not feel that dismantling Yongbyon was enough to merit ending all sanctions against North Korea.
"They were willing to denuke a large portion of the areas that we wanted, but we couldn't give up all of the sanctions for that," the president said. "So we continue to work, and we'll see. But we had to walk away from that particular suggestion. We had to walk away from that."
However, the president said Kim has assured him that North Korea will not test any nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles as discussions on a possible future agreement continue. Trump also said that he and Kim continue to have a good relationship even though they were unable to strike a bargain in Hanoi.
"This wasn't a walk away, like you get up and walk out," Trump said. "No, this was very friendly. We shook hands. You know, there's a warmth that we have, and I hope that stays. I think it will."
North Korea expert Bruce Klingner also tweeted that Kim's offer to dismantle Yongbyon was not a big enough concession to the United States.
Klingner had been critical of Trump's approach to the summit because his administration has hinted for weeks that it would be willing to "lower the bar" for what North Korea would be required to do in order to sign an agreement at Hanoi.
"But, in a surprise denouement for the high stakes summit, Trump correctly emphasized principles and longtime allies over a premature peace declaration and his newfound relationship with Kim Jong-un," Klingner tweeted on Thursday.
In a rare moment of bipartisan support, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said she was "relieved" the Trump administration did not give up its leverage over North Korea by ending sanctions just for "the optics of making a deal."
"We must be strong and consistent in negotiations with the DPRK [North Korea] and make it clear that any deal will require a full accounting of its nuclear program and most importantly, robust verification measures to ensure compliance," said Duckworth, who lost both of her legs when her Army helicopter was shot down over Iraq. "Continued U.S. determination and support for our allies is needed to force Kim Jong Un to return to the negotiating table and reduce north Korea's threat to peace and stability."