Choe’s line on Trump at summit is disputed

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Choe’s line on Trump at summit is disputed

A U.S. diplomatic source on Tuesday rejected North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui’s claim that U.S. President Donald Trump had been open to providing temporary sanctions relief at the summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, last month.

Choe was revealed to have said in a closed-door briefing for diplomats and reporters on March 15 that Trump had been considering partial sanctions relief through a “snapback” mechanism, according to Korean media Monday. This would enable United Nations (UN) Security Council sanctions measures to be reverted back to current levels in the event of North Korea’s non-compliance toward denuclearization.

Choe, however, claimed the mechanism was rejected by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, U.S. national security adviser, who took part in the second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the end of February.

But the U.S. source told the JoongAng Ilbo Tuesday that Choe’s claims “were not true.”

The two-day summit concluded early and without a deal as the two sides wrangled over what level of denuclearization measures would warrant some sanctions relief. Trump immediately claimed in a press conference on Feb. 28 that North Korea had wanted all sanctions to be taken off, while North Korean Foreign Minster Ri Yong-ho, in a separate press briefing, claimed it had called for partial relief - namely UN sanctions measures over the past several years affecting the livelihoods of its people.

Multiple sources rejected Choi’s suggestion that Pompeo and Bolton prevented a deal from being struck in Hanoi.

“The Hanoi summit did not abruptly fall apart because of one or two aides’ opposition,” said one diplomatic source. “Rather, President Trump always had various strategies on the table, and should be seen as having negotiated putting weight on the possibility of the talks collapsing.”

This source continued, “I asked a key U.S. official about Vice Foreign Minister Choe’s claims, and the United States maintains the same position.”

While Washington didn’t reject the possibility that a snapback mechanism was discussed as a possible precondition, it is likely to have been a negotiating strategy, not an end goal.

Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative on North Korea, after he visited Pyongyang from Feb. 6 to 8, “modified the U.S. negotiation strategy,” according to the source. Biegun was said to have sought perspectives throughout the U.S. administration and strategized for the Hanoi summit under the direction of Trump.

This goes against Choe’s claim that Pompeo and Bolton went against President Trump’s intention, opposing sanctions relief and leading to the collapse of the summit.

A foreign affairs source in Seoul familiar with the situation said, “This was not a summit where no individual held the reins.”

The two sides have different definitions of what the dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear complex meant in terms of denuclearization. Thus, Trump and the U.S. departments related to North Korea determined that it would be difficult to produce a meaningful result in the Hanoi summit and settled on a position to continue negotiations, according to this source.

“Our position hasn’t changed in the least,” said Robert Palladino, the deputy spokesman of the U.S. State Department, said in a press briefing Tuesday, after Trump’s tweet last Friday that appeared to revoke additional sanctions on North Korea.

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