In an unprecedented meeting on Tuesday between leaders of the U.S. and North Korea, chairman Kim Jong-un has agreed to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and to “the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”
President Donald Trump, for whom disarming the reclusive nation has been a key foreign policy goal since taking office, called the summit in Singapore “very successful.”
The summit began with a handshake between the two leaders.
It was a delicately choreographed moment. In front of a throng of clicking, flashing cameras aimed by some of the 2,500 reporters who had traveled to the island of Sentosa to cover the summit, Trump and Kim strode out from opposite flanks of a red-carpeted stage, met in the middle, and shook hands for about 10 seconds. Then they faced the cameras, paused for a long moment, and walked off, leaving the stage empty except for its backdrop: a line of North Korean and American flags arranged side by side.
“It was not easy to get here,” Mr. Kim later told reporters. “There were obstacles but we overcame them to be here.”
(Photo by Kevin Lim/THE STRAITS TIMES/Handout/Getty Images)
Trump maintained a positive tone throughout the day.
“I feel really great,” he told reporters. “It’s gonna be a great discussion and I think tremendous success. I think it’s gonna be really successful and I think we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt.”
The two world leaders talked privately for about 40 minutes and then held a lunch meeting, which was joined by National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chief of Staff John Kelly, as well as North Korea’s Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and former Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong.
On the way to lunch, reporters shouted questions asking how things were going.
“Very, very good,” the president said. “Excellent relationship.”
While the leaders met, diplomats from both nations were reportedly working out details of a joint statement. It reads:
- The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
- The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
- Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
- The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
After the hours-long summit, Trump declared it had been “very successful,” and that Mr. Kim has a “great personality.”
“We’re prepared to start a new history, and we’re ready to write a new chapter between our nations,” the president said.
A new era, or same empty promises?
The U.S. and North Korea have already agreed, in some form, to each of the points listed in the joint statement. North Korea has either cheated on or disregarded the agreements in the past.
“This looks like a restatement of where we left negotiations more than 10 years ago and not a major step forward,” Anthony Ruggiero, senior fellow at Washington’s Foundation for Defense of Democracies think-tank, told Reuters.
Others think the agreement is in some ways a step back compared to past negotiations.
“Each of the four main points was in previous documents with NK, some in a stronger, more encompassing way,” Bruce Klingner, a former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, tweeted on Tuesday. “The [denuclearization] bullet is weaker than the Six Party Talks language.”
(Photo by Kevin Lim/The Strait Times/Handout/Getty Images)
Trump told reporters he thinks this time is different because his is a new administration. That might be true. After all, his “rocket man” and “fire and fury” rhetoric ostensibly got Mr. Kim to the bargaining table. Trump framed that kind of talk as calculated strategy in a yet-to-be-released interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
“So I think the rhetoric, I hated to do it, sometimes I felt foolish doing it, but we had no choice,” the president said.
Still, it’s too early for Trump to declare the summit a victory.
The agreement lacks details and a timetable on denuclearization. The president simply told reporters “we’ll be verifying” the denuclearization process with a “combination of both” Americans and international officials.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it was “very worrisome” that the statement was “so imprecise,” and that it gives Pyongyang “substantial leverage.”
What exactly did North Korea get out of the deal? Quite a bit, compared to the U.S.
Trump agreed to stop conducting military exercises with South Korea, something which North Korea had previously agreed to stop complaining about. The president said the drills cost the U.S. a “tremendous amount of money,” and that South Korea hasn’t always chipped in enough.
“South Korea contributes [to the military exercises], but not 100 percent, which is a subject that we have to talk to them about,” the president said.
The statement seemed to surprise South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
“At this moment, we need to figure out President Trump’s accurate meaning and intention,” his office said in a statement on Tuesday.
It also surprised analysts.
“Apparently jet-fuel is so expensive, it’s worth casting aside a 60-year ally and friend,” Robert Kelly, a professor at South Korea’s Pusan National University, said.
Trump even said he’d like to eventually close all U.S. military operations on the peninsula.
“We have 32,000 soldiers in South Korea. I would like to be able to bring them back home. That’s not part of the equation. At some point, I hope it would be,” he said.
On a point that’s harder to quantify, Trump also granted what Kim Jong-un, a dictator who executed more than 100 officials to secure power and has overseen the starvation of hundreds of thousands of citizens, has sought for a long time: a seat at the international table. Or, he for now at least has the semblance of it.
It seems total and lasting denuclearization of North Korea would be the only reward worth the U.S. concessions, though whether that will manifest remains to be seen.