WASHINGTON – On the day that their talks in Hanoi collapsed last month, U.S. President Donald Trump handed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a piece of paper that included a blunt call for the transfer of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and bomb fuel to the United States.
Trump gave Kim both Korean and English-language versions of the U.S. position at Hanoi’s Metropole hotel on Feb. 28, according to a source familiar with the discussions. It was the first time that Trump himself had explicitly defined what he meant by denuclearization directly to Kim, the source said.
A lunch between the two leaders was canceled the same day. While neither side has presented a complete account of why the summit collapsed, the document may help explain it.
Now seen by Reuters, the document’s existence was first mentioned by White House national security adviser John Bolton in television interviews he gave after the two-day summit. Bolton did not disclose in those interviews the pivotal U.S. expectation contained in the document that North Korea should transfer its nuclear weapons and fissile material to the United States.
The document appeared to represent Bolton’s long-held and hard-line “Libya model” of denuclearization that North Korea has rejected repeatedly. It probably would have been seen by Kim as insulting and provocative, analysts said.
Trump had previously distanced himself in public comments from Bolton’s approach and said a “Libya model” would be employed only if a deal could not be reached.
The idea of North Korea handing over its weapons was first proposed by Bolton in 2004. He revived the proposal last year when Trump named him as national security adviser.
The document was meant to provide the North Koreans with a clear and concise definition of what the United States meant by “final, fully verifiable, denuclearization,” the source said.
After the summit, a North Korean official accused Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of “gangster-like” demands, saying Pyongyang was considering suspending talks and may rethink its self-imposed ban on missile and nuclear tests.
The English version of the document called for “fully dismantling North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure, chemical and biological warfare program and related dual-use capabilities; and ballistic missiles, launchers, and associated facilities.”
Aside from the call for the transfer of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and bomb fuel, the document had four other key points.
It called on North Korea to provide a comprehensive declaration of its nuclear program and full access to U.S. and international inspectors, to halt all related activities and construction of any new facilities, to eliminate all nuclear infrastructure, and to transition all nuclear program scientists and technicians to commercial activities.
The summit was cut short after Trump and Kim failed to reach a deal on the extent of economic sanctions relief for North Korea in exchange for its steps to give up its nuclear program.
The first summit between Trump and Kim, which took place in Singapore in last June, was almost called off after the North Koreans rejected Bolton’s repeated demands for it to follow a denuclearization model under which components of Libya’s nuclear program were shipped to the United States in 2004.
Seven years after a denuclearization agreement was reached between the United States and Libya’s leader, Moammar Gadhafi, the United States took part in a NATO-led military operation against his government and he was overthrown by rebels and killed.
Last year, North Korea officials called Bolton’s plan “absurd” and noted the “miserable fate” that befell Gadhafi.
After North Korea threatened to cancel the Singapore summit, Trump said last May that he was not pursuing a “Libya model” and that he was looking for an agreement that would protect Kim.
“He would be there, he would be running his country, his country would be very rich,” Trump said at the time.
“The Libya model was a much different model. We decimated that country,” Trump added.
The Hanoi document was presented in what U.S. officials have said was an attempt by Trump to secure a “big deal” under which all sanctions would be lifted if North Korea gave up all of its weapons.
U.S.-North Korean engagement has appeared to be in limbo since the Hanoi meeting. Pompeo said on March 4 he was hopeful he could send a team to North Korea “in the next couple of weeks,” but there has been no sign of that.
Jenny Town, a North Korea expert at the Washington-based Stimson Center think tank, said the content of the U.S. document was not surprising.
“This is what Bolton wanted from the beginning and it clearly wasn’t going to work,” Town said. “If the U.S. was really serious about negotiations they would have learned already that this wasn’t an approach they could take.”
Town added, “It’s already been rejected more than once, and to keep bringing it up … would be rather insulting. It’s a nonstarter and reflects absolutely no learning curve in the process.”