(ATTN: FIXES quote in lead, headline; ADDS more details in last two paras; REPLACES photo)
By Kim Seung-yeon
SEOUL, April 22 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- February's summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was about choosing between "a very bad deal and no deal," and Trump made the right decision by ending the talks without an agreement, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea said Monday.
Amb. Harry Harris made the remarks in a meeting with reporters, stressing that the North's offer to dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for the lifting of key sanctions represented a "bad deal" because it would have resulted in sanctions relief with the North's weapons programs remaining largely intact.
The remark appears to underline Washington's insistence on a "big deal" that calls for the lifting of sanctions only after the North's complete denuclearization. It also differs from South Korea's call for "a good enough deal" -- a phased-in, incremental approach.
"If we had taken that deal that Kim Jong-un himself offered ... North Korea would have received the fiscal relief, the money stream, (and) all of the weapons of mass destruction would have remained intact," he said. "It would have made it much more dangerous."
"I believe the choice that President Trump faced at the end of Hanoi was not a choice between a big deal and a good enough deal. Rather, it was a choice between a very bad deal and no deal. And he made a choice of no deal, which I believe was clearly the right choice," he said.
North Korea has railed against the U.S. demand for a big deal. Leader Kim Jong-un said in a key policy speech last week that he would be willing to hold a third summit with Trump but only if the U.S comes up with a new proposal that he deemed acceptable.
In an expression of complaint, senior North Korean diplomats have criticized top U.S. officials, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, by name. The North also, last Wednesday, carried out a test-firing of an unidentified new weapon.
Unsure of whether there will be a third summit between Trump and Kim, the ambassador noted that it is up to leader Kim to decide what action he will take next that will benefit his country and people in the days to come.
"That's not my decision. But I do believe it'll happen. I know President Trump wants it to happen. I don't know if Kim wants it to happen. Again, the ball is in his court."
The ambassador emphasized that South Korea-U.S. relations are "in a great place," spurning concerns that have been raised following the last bilateral summit between President Moon Jae-in and Trump in Washington early this month.
"Our two leaders wrapped up the summit by affirming together the enduring strength of the US-ROK alliance and its positive impact on both of our nations. They both understand that the alliance has been and will remain the lynchpin of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula," he said.
Another new missile highlights N.K.'s focus on conventional weapons amid nuclear talks
Trump's pressure on S. Korea raises concern about U.S. interests, alliance
Latest test indicates N. Korea's successful development of new ballistic missile: experts
Seoul-Tokyo ties tipped for deeper rift after Japan's expanded export control: experts
Trade row with Japan, another headwind for Korean economy