- North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has reaffirmed his country’s commitment to “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula following meetings with Donald Trump in Singapore.
- The text of a joint statement signed by the two leaders included no language on timing or how the denuclearization would take place.
- Mr. Kim said “the world will see a major change” after the two sides “had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind.”
- Mr. Trump said North Korea would begin the process to denuclearize “very quickly,” and said he would invite Mr. Kim to the White House. After the summit, Mr. Trump announced the U.S. would suspend military exercises with the South Koreans: “The war games are very expensive, we pay for the majority of them.”
What do Trump and Kim hope to accomplish?
Nuclear concessions: In the past year, North Korea’s nuclear program has grown by apparent leaps and bounds, with independent experts confirming large increases in the range of the North’s missiles and the explosive yield of their nuclear weapons. Tuesday’s summit was initially portrayed by the White House as meant to completely rid the North of its nuclear weapons, but Washington since lowered its expectations: The meeting was later cast as a chance to “start a dialogue” and for Trump the dealmaker to look into the eyes and take the measure of his nuclear-armed antagonist.
Ending the Korean War: The 1950-53 conflict between North and South Korea never officially ended; a 1953 armistice brought an end to military hostilities, but there was no final peace settlement. Ferial Saeed, a former State Department official, wrote to Associated Press that the summit will be a “getting to know you meeting, ‘plus,” with the “plus referring to discussions to end the war. “That means, lower your expectations, and that the president is likely to lean toward keeping his own counsel and eschew a script.” China, both Koreas and the United States would have to sign off on any legally binding treaty, so it is unlikely Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump will do more than express an intention to end the war.
North Korea’s economy: Growing military power and rapprochement with the South has only helped Mr. Kim so much. His impoverished nation, whose authoritarian government still bills it as a socialist paradise, is increasingly a market-driven economy that expects normal trading relations with the rest of the world. Instead, it lives under global sanctions that make it an international pariah. For some scholars, making nuclear concessions that would ease those sanctions seems like a necessary move for Mr. Kim to maintain his hold on power, The Globe’s Nathan VanderKlippe explains.
‘Rocket Man’ and the ‘dotard’: How they got there
A year ago, Washington and Pyongyang were in an unprecedented war of words that many feared would descend into actual war. At a United Nations speech last August, U.S. President Donald Trump called North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man” and threatened to retaliate against North Korea’s military provocations with “fire and fury” if it endangered the United States. A month later, Mr. Kim, whose stated objective was to build nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, was quoted calling the U.S. President a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”
But Mr. Kim changed tactics in 2018, sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea and holding a summit with the South’s President Moon Jae-in. Mr. Kim has offered to negotiate away his nuclear program if he’s provided with a reliable security guarantee from the United States. There is deep skepticism about whether Mr. Kim would fully give up his nukes, but Mr. Trump eventually agreed to meet him for a summit. Mr. Kim’s top lieutenant and former intelligence chief Kim Yong-chol travelled to the U.S. and with a personal letter to Mr. Trump, after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to Pyongyang and met the North Korean leader twice.
For a while, it seemed like Tuesday’s summit in Singapore wasn’t going to happen. Mr. Trump announced the date and location of the meeting on May 10; two weeks later, the White House said the meeting was off because of some provocative remarks by Mr. Kim; but then 10 days after that, Mr. Trump said it was back on.
For background on the political back-and-forth that led up to this point, here’s more reading from Globe and Mail Asia correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe.
- April 28, 2017: Edge of patience: Dispatch from the China-N. Korea border
- July 4: North Korea's long-range missile test escalates tensions
- Aug. 7: North Korea defiant as new sanctions take bite out of exports
- Aug. 8: North Korea will be met with 'fire and fury' if threats continue: Trump
- Aug. 20: Aid blocked from North Korea as sanctions frighten shippers
- Sept. 4: Kim 'begging for war,' Washington warns as N. Korea gets weapon that can threaten U.S.
- Jan. 9, 2018: North Korea signs on to Winter Olympics, agrees to military talks with South
- Jan. 16: Aid groups suffering under North Korea sanctions
- Feb. 9: At Olympic opening ceremony, an image of peace that could prove ephemeral
- March 6: North Korea open to denuclearization, ready for talks with U.S., South says
- March 8: Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to meet in historic talks
- March 28: North Korea’s Kim takes surprise trip to Beijing
- April 20: Kim Jong-un says North Korea has suspended nuclear, missile testing
- May 2: In northeast Asia, North Korean summit prompts a wave of euphoria and property-buying
What will success look like after the meeting?
Success in Singapore would see Mr. Kim making a bold decision to exchange his nukes for economic support and security assurances, Ryan Haas, an Asia expert at the John L. Thornton China Center, told Associated Press. Both leaders would offer “clear, specific, unequivocal statements” outlining a dismantlement of North Korean weapons, an inventory and removal of all nuclear fuel and an opening up to UN nuclear inspectors. But the final statement, while clear, was hardly specific in terms of when the denuclearization would happen.
Mr. Trump has faced intense pressure to win a pledge for denuclearization. A group of opposition Democratic lawmakers in the United States said in a statement that if Mr. Trump, a Republican, wants approval for a deal that allows an easing of sanctions on North Korea, he needs to get the permanent dismantlement and removal of “every single one of North Korea’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons,” end all military nuclear fuel production and missile and nuclear tests, and persuade Pyongyang to “commit to robust compliance inspections including a verification regime for North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”
This is a very high bar and probably unrealistic after one meeting. Laboriously negotiated past nuclear deals, considered breakthroughs at the time, broke down on North Korea’s extreme sensitivity to allowing in outsiders to look at whether they’re dismantling their nuclear facilities, many of which are thought to be hidden.
What will failure look like after the meeting?
A failure after Tuesday doesn’t necessarily mean a return to the animosity of 2017. That’s in part because of South Korea’s diplomatic outreach to the North, which was highlighted by two summits this spring between the rivals’ leaders. If Mr. Trump and Mr Kim’s commitment in Singapore fails, “the result may be to enhance North Korean dependency on Seoul and Beijing as safety valves against the prospect of renewal of U.S.-[North Korea] confrontation,” Scott Snyder, a Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Associated Press before the summit. “This circumstance in and of itself provides a new buffer against the prospect of military escalation in Korea that was not present at the end of 2017.”
Associated Press, with reports from Nathan VanderKlippe and Evan Annett