HANOI/SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korean state media on Friday brushed over the lack of a summit deal for leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, focusing on constructive talks and signaling Pyongyang was not about to walk away from negotiations.
The fiery rhetoric that has followed previous failed talks over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and sanctions was absent in extensive but measured coverage of the two-day summit in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.
A banner headline on the front-page of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper proclaimed Kim’s meeting with Trump with no mention of the fact both would be going home empty handed.
Photos showed Kim talking amicably with Trump, a man he once derided as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard”.
“They had a constructive and candid exchange of their opinions over the practical issues arising in opening up a new era of the improvement of the DPRK-U.S. relations on the basis of the progress,” Rodong said.
DPRK is short for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
State media made no mention of the failure of the talks or the disagreement over the North’s demand for the end of sanctions and U.S. calls for the dismantlement of all of the North’s nuclear program.
The official KCNA news agency also took a conciliatory tone, saying Kim “expressed his thanks to Trump for making positive efforts for the successful meeting and talks while making a long journey and said goodbye, promising the next meeting.”
A senior South Korean official called it “composed message management,” noting official media focused on the two having positive discussions and the promise to meet again.
The measured approached mirrored the message late on Thursday from the North’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and his deputy Choe Son Hui, a veteran of the North’s nuclear diplomacy who was previously responsible for fiery attack on Washington.
Ri is the same man who days before his speech at the U.N. General Assembly in September 2017 told reporters his country might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific, after Trump called Kim a “Little Rocket Man” on a suicide mission.
“Kim would have to study the U.S. and especially Trump more,” said Nam Sung-wook, professor at Korea University’s North Korea studies program. “This was likely a great learning experience, and it must have come as a shock to him to see the problem of just counting on reports by aides.”
Media in U.S. ally Japan focused on the breakdown of the talks and scepticism about the future of the nuclear diplomacy given how the two sides failed to bridge the gap despite the leaders’ personal involvement in the negotiations.
Many pundits in Japan, often the target of North Korean threats, had been worried Trump would agree a deal that left the former Korean colonial power exposed to Pyongyang’s nuclear threat.
“Back to square one on complete denuclearization” read the pro-government conservative Yomiuri newspaper headline.
China, the North’s biggest backer, was more neutral, balancing the failure of the talks with the assessment there was still progress.
Official English-language China Daily said although high hopes for the summit were not met, contacts between the two sides were likely to continue, while South Korea and China were likely to lend support.
“It would seem a deal is still on the cards – it just needs more time to put the pieces in place,” it said.
South Korea had secured a large section of the international media center in Hanoi for its 403 media workers, reflecting big interest back home where President Moon Jae-in has staked significant political capital on rapprochement with the North.
Analysis of the summit was split sharply along ideological lines with liberal media lamenting the loss of a great opportunity to bring in peace, while conservative outlets expressed relief that no major concessions were made to Kim.
“Kim Jong Un has no plan to give up nukes now and denuclearization is fake,” Chosun Ilbo newspaper wrote in an editorial.
Reporting by Ju-min Park and Hyonhee Shin in HANOI, Joyce Lee in SEOUL and Billy Mallard in TOKYO; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Lincoln Feast