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"So ... how was breakfast?" Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump and Chairman Kim are returning to their respective capitals empty-handed, with conflicting explanations for how talks broke down and where we go from here.

Why it matters: Trump showed both flexibility — he backed off the long-standing U.S. demand that any deal requires complete and verifiable denuclearization — and a willingness to walk away. The summit also laid bare the limits to his charisma-based negotiating style and revealed how far the two sides are from agreeing to anything of substance.

Catch up quick: In a press conference this morning, Trump looked dejected but still called Kim “quite a guy,” said progress had been made, and he insisted the U.S. was on track to become “very good friends with Chairman Kim and with North Korea.”

  • The North Koreans then held an unexpected, late-night press conference to contradict Trump’s claim that Kim had demanded all sanctions be waived in exchange for partial denuclearization. Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui also said her “impression” is that Kim “has lost the will to engage in deal-making” with the U.S.

Between the lines: North Korea’s demands on sanctions relief still went far beyond what was likely to be accepted in exchange for limited steps toward denuclearization.

  • Jung Pak, a former CIA analyst now at Brookings, emails that Trump “demonstrating his desire for substantive actions on denuclearization was important because Kim has been ignoring U.S. negotiators and banking on his personal appeals to Trump, whom he probably judged was more malleable.”

While the abrupt ending of the summit was a surprise, the absence of a major breakthrough was not.

  • Jim Walsh, an international security expert at MIT who has negotiated with North Korea, says the two sides “squandered their time since Singapore,” adding: “It took 2 years of intense, regular negotiation to get the Iran deal. And Iran is easier. … So no, 30 days and winging it isn’t going to get it done.”
  • “Trump was told — and the expert community has long stressed — that Kim wanted immediate sanctions relief,” says Van Jackson, a former Pentagon strategist and author of "On the Brink: Trump, Kim, and the Threat of Nuclear War." “Because most sanctions are by legislation and not executive order, that meant Trump literally couldn't give Kim what he wanted. But Trump went ahead with the summit anyway out of a heady mix of hubris and ignorance.”

The question now is whether this was a bump in the road or if we’ve now veered entirely off course.

  • Bruce Klingner, a former CIA official now at Heritage, isn't expecting a return to fire and fury in the short term, given Kim "promised not to resume nuclear or missile testing" — at least according to Trump — and the U.S. has shown no interest in "activity that could trigger a strong North Korean response."
  • “The negotiations will resume sooner or later, and the misfortune in Hanoi might impart a different kind of momentum to what is destined to be a fluctuating, arduous diplomatic process," Gi-Wook Shin of Stanford University writes for Axios Expert Voices.

Behind the scenes: For the South Koreans and anyone banking on positive momentum, this was a bad outcome. As Axios’ Jonathan Swan points out, hawks like John Bolton won’t share that disappointment.

The bottom line: “Now that many of the critics ... have got what they wanted — a tougher approach to North Korea — they have to accept the consequences, whatever they may be,” write Joel Wit and Jenny Town of 38 North.

Correction: This post has been corrected to reflect the fact that Choe Son-hui is North Korea's vice foreign minister, not its foreign minister.

Go deeper

More corporations are requiring workers to get vaccinated

Graphic: Axios Visuals

Life for the unvaccinated could get more difficult as bosses increasingly move to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory.

The big picture: The federal Government in May said that it is legal for companies to require employees to get vaccinated for coronavirus.

White House: Over 500,000 new shots recorded Friday, highest since July 1

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The United States recorded more than half a million new COVID-19 vaccine shots on Friday, the highest number since July 1, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Why it matters: The Delta variant is continuing to spread across the United States and it now comprises over 80% of the coronavirus cases in the country, Jean-Pierre said. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that "vaccination is the most important strategy to prevent severe illness and death."

Biden to announce sanctions, other efforts to address crisis in Cuba amid protests

Photo: Sarah Silbiger/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden will announce sanctions against one entity and two Cuban individuals this afternoon and provide details on his administration's efforts to improve internet connectivity in Cuba, a senior administration official said Friday.

Why it matters: After initially hoping to place the issue on the back burner, the White House has recently ramped up its focus on Cuba amid protests on the island and in the United States, congressional backlash and political pressure from the South Florida Cuban community.

  • The president is also expected to make announcements on remittances and plans for U.S. embassy augmentation, the official said.
  • The official noted that the administration is in talks with private sector providers about the possibility of providing wireless LTE communications to the Cuban people.
  • "Given the protest of July 11, it is important for U.S. diplomats to engage directly with the Cuban people and if we can do that in a way that ensures the safety of U.S. personnel, that is something that we will undertake," he said, noting that the president would announce more details later this afternoon.

The details: The president will meet today with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a Cuban-American, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), among other political and community leaders and artists.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), an outspoken voice on Cuban issues, is not expected to attend the meeting.
  • The meeting follows a series of engagements by Cedric Richmond and the Office of Public Engagement with the Cuban-American community, the official said.

What they're saying: "We're gonna do everything we can to keep Cuba on the front burner, so we can keep the conversation on the rights of the Cuban people and their rights to manifest peacefully," the official said on the call with reporters.

Be smart: Cuba is a tricky political issue for Democrats, who are split on the matter. The president was defeated by Donald Trump in South Florida during the 2020 election, and Democrats fear similar results, particularly in the upcoming midterms, if they mishandle the situation.

Go deeper: The newly announced sanctions today will follow already imposed sanctions against Cuban officials and entities allegedly responsible for human rights abuses during the government's crackdown on island-wide protests earlier this month.