When Donald Trump looks at videos of North Korean artillery drills, he sees beach-front real estate that would make for great condos. When he reads a vague promise by the rogue state to “complete denuclearization,” he sees a firm vow to dismantle a deadly weapons capacity decades in the making.
And when he looks Kim Jong-un in the eye, he sees a young dictator he can trust to make real change, despite Mr. Kim formally agreeing only to broad commitments little different from those in the past that have produced few results.
“I know when somebody wants to deal, and I know when somebody doesn’t,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday, after spending nearly five hours with the North Korean supreme leader in Singapore for an unprecedented summit between sitting heads of the two countries.
“I just feel very strongly, my instinct, my ability or talent – they want to make a deal,” Mr. Trump said.
It was on those grounds that the U.S. President said Mr. Kim will not only order the destruction of a missile engine-testing site, but also tear apart his hard-won nuclear arsenal and development program, working together with United States and international experts to verify progress “as fast as it can be mechanically and physically done.” The United States, too, Mr. Trump said, will halt joint military exercises with South Korea, a major concession to North Korea.
None of those commitments are contained in a joint statement signed by the two leaders, the formal record of commitments completed Tuesday that includes a new promise by North Korea to repatriate the remains of American soldiers who died in the Korean War, but otherwise lacks the specificity even of documents signed by Pyongyang in years past. It contains no timelines nor any reference to the “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” that the White House has insisted it must obtain.
Instead, both countries agreed to “join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula.” Mr. Trump “committed to providing security guarantees to the DPRK,” without providing details of what those might be.
Mr. Trump has nonetheless committed the weight of American foreign policy to a gut feeling that North Korea, a country that has frequently threatened the nuclear destruction of the United States, is prepared to act in good faith far beyond the specific text of its agreement. “We’re prepared to start a new history,” Mr. Trump said, echoing a statement by Mr. Kim that “the world will see a major change.”
Mr. Kim’s regime is accused of perpetrating atrocities on its impoverished populace and executing rivals. But Mr. Trump flattered the North Korean leader as “very talented,” a rare person able to “run it tough” when handed the reins of a country at a young age.
Although Mr. Trump insisted he had also raised human-rights issues, his compliments capped an extraordinary day for Mr. Kim, who met the U.S. President in front of a backdrop of red, white and blue flags, North Korea’s single star interspersed with the stars and stripes of the American banner. Both men appeared to revel in the making of historic images, smiling, repeatedly shaking hands and taking turns placing hands on each other’s backs. Mr. Trump at one point gave Mr. Kim a thumbs up.
“In this summit, Kim Jong-un is a big winner, I have no doubt about that,” said Chun Yung-woo, who was Seoul’s top representative at international denuclearization talks a decade ago.
“He gained legitimacy for his tyranny, his rule.” In addition, by striding onto the global stage ”with Trump on an equal footing, he got all the international recognition that North Korea has been striving for for many decades. In that regard; what Kim Jong-un got was very clear. What the U.S. has gained is unclear.”
Indeed, the formal agreement between the two leaders is “a big disappointment,” said Han Seung-joo, a former South Korean foreign minister and ambassador to the United States. “There’s no there there, at all. Just one very weak sentence on denuclearization.”
The Singapore statement is “much, much less than a binding deal. It’s nothing new, just a reaffirmation of an existing document (already negotiated!),” Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, wrote on Twitter.
“We gave up a lot for nothing.”
Observers, too, remain skeptical that North Korea will actually lay down its nuclear arms, particularly since its attainment of a workable atomic weapon, in addition to long-range missiles believed capable of reaching North America, contributed to Mr. Kim’s success in securing talks with a current U.S. president – an achievement that eluded his father and grandfather.
“Kim got to this point of appearing as an equal with an American president because he has nuclear weapons, and because that deterrent has solidified,” said Adam Cathcart, a lecturer at Britain’s University of Leeds who is founder and editor of Sino-NK, an online publication for academic discussion of issues around North Korea.
Still, more discussion is expected between the two countries. Mr. Trump said he would invite Mr. Kim to the White House if more progress is made. Sung Kim, a U.S. ambassador who has worked on the recent talks with North Korea, acknowledged that “there’s a lot of work left,” but said the “two sides are committed to working intensively.”
”Let’s keep in mind that this is just the very beginning. We don’t need to be too critical about the summit or call it a waste of time,” said Lu Chao, director of the Border Study Institute at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, and one of China’s foremost experts on North Korea.
“From my perspective, ceasing the long hostility toward the U.S. could be North Korea’s biggest accomplishment today.” The agreements made in Singapore “pave the way for the coming stable process of denuclearizing the peninsula,” he said.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi cheered a meeting that created “a new history.”
“This is exactly the goal we have hoped for,” Mr. Wang said Tuesday.
If nothing else, both Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump appeared to enjoy their time together, and the immense attention it received.
Sitting down for a lunch of avocado salad, fresh octopus, short rib and braised cod, Mr. Trump called out: “Getting a good picture everybody? So we look nice and handsome and thin? Perfect.”
At another point, as the two leaders walked through the luxury Capella Hotel that hosted the summit, television cameras caught the North Korean interpreter relaying remarks from Mr. Kim: “Many people in the world will think of this as a … form of fantasy … from a science-fiction movie,” he told Mr. Trump.
With reporting by Alexandra Li
Appendix: Full text of Trump and Kim’s agreement
After Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim’s meeting Tuesday, the White House released the full text of the document both leaders signed in Singapore.
Joint Statement of President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit
President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth, and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new U.S.-DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Convinced that the establishment of new U.S.-DPRK relations will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world, and recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un state the following:
- 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.
Having acknowledged that the U.S.-DPRK summit – the first in history – was an epochal event of great significance in overcoming decades of tensions and hostilities between the two countries and for the opening up of a new future, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un commit to implement the stipulations in this joint statement fully and expeditiously. The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the U.S.-DPRK summit.
President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have committed to co-operate for the development of new U.S.-DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.
DONALD J. TRUMP
President of the United States of America
KIM JONG UN
Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
June 12, 2018