Reporter's Notebook: Covering the Trump-Kim summit in Vietnam

Reporter's Notebook: The Trump-Kim summit
Reporter's Notebook: The Trump-Kim summit 02:38

The theater of the summit almost overshadowed the seriousness of the issues. On the streets of Hanoi, T-shirts with quirky images of President Trump and Kim Jong Un were sold as souvenirs. A local bar served up a kimchi-flavored beer called "Kim Jong Ale."

But the two unpredictable leaders spent far longer traveling to Vietnam than they did negotiating. Kim took a 60-plus hour train ride, and Mr. Trump flew more than 17 hours halfway around the world.

They left with a stalemate and a pledge to have diplomats continue talking. But even that may be a winning prospect for Kim, who no longer appears a pariah.

The North Korean leader stayed in Vietnam after the summit to tour hotspots, an option not afforded to his people, who are forbidden to travel. Still, the sanctions choking his country's economy remain, as do widespread food shortages.

North Korea is strapped for cash. It relies on illicit trade and state-owned businesses like restaurants outside the country which send cash to Pyongyang.

Now it may be even harder to get other countries to shut down these small operations, after Kim earned the right to sit as across from the president as almost an equal. He figured out how to threaten the U.S. with nuclear weapons, and then flattered Mr. Trump with letters flirting with the idea of giving that arsenal away.

The U.S. did learn a few things, namely that Kim does not want to be isolated and, most of all, that he wants the financial strain on North Korea lifted.

It was extraordinary to see him face questions from the western press for the very first time — questions that made aides nervous, but that the president wanted answered.

While the brinkmanship of these two unusual personalities failed to forge a breakthrough, at least neither side seemed ready to escalate to war, instead leaving the door open to future diplomacy

  • Margaret Brennan

    Margaret Brennan is moderator of CBS News' "Face The Nation" and CBS News' senior foreign affairs correspondent based in Washington, D.C.