Inside the dying moments of the Trump-Kim summit at a Hanoi hotel

HANOI (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un were supposed to tuck into a delicate meal of foie gras, snowfish and candied ginseng, prepared by North Korean and Western chefs, on the second day of their nuclear summit.

A view of the table in the room which was supposed to host a working lunch between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, that was cancelled, during the second U.S.-North Korea summit at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

The lunch was never served.

As chefs and hotel staff were poised to put the final touches to their creations, the White House announced Trump and Kim would be leaving the Metropole hotel in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, without a deal, and without lunch.

“The cancellation was really last minute. Everything was ready,” one of two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

It was the dying moment of a deal aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program and paving the way for the resolution to the technically unfinished 1950-53 Korean War.

Just hours earlier, both Trump and Kim had said they were optimistic about progress.

The Metropole, a grand, colonial-era hotel in the center of Hanoi’s French Quarter, had seemed swept along with the hope the day before the summit unraveled.

On Wednesday, a Reuters correspondent saw U.S. and North Korean security personnel standing side-by-side guarding the entrance to rooms reserved for the summit, politely taking it in turns to open the door for each other.

In between preparing rooms for the high-stakes talks, North Korean and American officials made small talk about the crimson flowers by the pool, where Trump and Kim would take a stroll the next day following their first working meeting.

At lunchtime on Wednesday, a North Korean bodyguard craned his neck to get a look at a group of U.S. security staff returning with bags of burgers from a nearby McDonald’s.


But just before lunch on Thursday, the expectant mood in the Metropole changed.

Despite a promising start, with Kim taking his first-ever question from a foreign journalist and both leaders seemingly upbeat that a deal was to be done, the working lunch at which it was hoped final details would be tidied away, never happened.

After motorcades whisked Trump and Kim away from different sides of the hotel, life started to return to normal.

Over beers with her husband in the hotel restaurant, Cynthia Pagano, a 65-year-old guest from the U.S. state of Georgia, said she had been excited to see a “moment of history” unfold.

“Won’t they meet again tomorrow? Oh no,” her husband, Ray Pagano, said.

The La Veranda Room, where Trump and Kim shook hands and took questions from the White House press corps, the conference table the leaders had negotiated across had been taken away but North Korean and American flags still stood.

It is not clear what became of the snowfish lunch so lovingly prepared.

“It’s a pity,” one of the sources with direct knowledge said.

“It was a fantastic dish”.

Reporting by Ju-min Park and James Pearson; Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel