SINGAPORE (AP) – A day after their historic summit, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un returned to their respective strongholds yesterday — but to far different receptions.
In Pyongyang, the North Korean autocrat woke up to state media’s enthusiastic claims of a victorious meeting with the United States (US) President; photos of him standing side-by-side with Trump on the world stage were splashed across newspapers. Trump, meanwhile, faced questions about whether he gave away too much in return for far too little when he bestowed a new legitimacy on Kim’s rule and agreed, at Pyongyang’s request, to end war games with Seoul that the allies long portrayed as crucial to Asian safety.
As the top US diplomat jetted to South Korea for follow-up talks yesterday, much of Asia was still trying to process the whirlwind events of the day before.
There was, at times, a surreal quality to the carefully staged, five-hour meeting of two men who’d been threatening each other with nuclear war and insulting each other’s mental and physical attributes just months before. Trump repeatedly praised Kim’s negotiating skills and their new relationship and expressed hope for “a bright new future” for Kim’s impoverished nation.
But there were worries, especially in Tokyo and Seoul, which both have huge US military presences, about Trump agreeing to halt US military exercises with South Korea, which the North long claimed were invasion preparations. That concession to Kim appeared to catch the Pentagon and officials in Seoul off guard, and some South Koreans were alarmed.
“The US is our ally, so the joint military drills are still necessary to maintain our relationship with the US,” said Lee Jae Sung, from Incheon. “I think they will be continued for a while.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Singapore yesterday on his way to Seoul, where he planned to meet privately in the evening with General Vincent Brooks, commander of US Forces Korea.
Pompeo will meet President Moon Jae-in today to discuss the summit. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono is also heading to Seoul and is due to meet with Pompeo and his South Korean counterpart. Pompeo, the former CIA director, then plans to fly to Beijing to update the Chinese government on the talks.
On the issue the world has been most fixated on — North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear arsenal meant to target the entire US mainland — Trump and Kim signed a joint statement that contained a repeat of past vows to work toward a denuclearised Korean Peninsula.
The details of how and when the North would denuclearise appear yet to be determined, as are the nature of the unspecified “protections” Trump is pledging to Kim and his government.
Despite the confusion and disappointment among some, the summit managed to, for a time at least, reset a relationship that has long been characterised by bloodshed and threats. In agreeing to the summit, Trump risked granting Kim his long-sought recognition on the world stage in hopes of ending the North’s nuclear programme.
North Korea is believed to possess more than 50 nuclear warheads, with its atomic programme spread across more than 100 sites constructed over decades to evade international inspections. Trump insisted that strong verification of denuclearisation would be included in a final agreement, saying it was a detail his team would begin sorting out with the North Koreans next week.
Moon championed engagement with the North, and the agreement’s language on North Korea’s nuclear programme was similar to what the leaders of North and South Korea came up with at their own summit in April. Trump and Kim referred back to the so-called Panmunjom Declaration, which contained a weak commitment to denuclearisation but no specifics on how to achieve it.
As Trump acknowledged that denuclearisation would not be accomplished overnight, the North suggested yesterday that Trump had moved away from his demand for complete denuclearisation before US sanctions on the long-isolated country are removed.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the two leaders “shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”. KCNA also reported that Trump had expressed his intention to lift sanctions “over a period of goodwill dialogue” between the two countries.
The White House did not immediately respond to the North Korean characterisation of the deal.
The Singapore agreement did not detail plans for North Korea to demolish a missile engine testing site, a concession Trump said he’d won, or Trump’s promise to end military exercises in the South while negotiations between the US and the North continue. Trump cast that decision as a cost-saving measure, but also called the exercises “inappropriate” while talks continue.
While progress on the nuclear question was murky, the leaders spent the public portions of their five hours together expressing optimism and making a show of their new relationship. Trump declared he and Kim had developed “a very special bond”, and seemed to delight in giving Kim a glimpse of the presidential limousine. Kim, for his part, said the leaders had “decided to leave the past behind” and promised, “The world will see a major change”.