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Trump-Kim summit heavy on promises, light on substance

June 13, 2018


US President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un as they sit down for their historic summit in a hotel on the Sentosa island in Singapore on Tuesday.—AFP
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un as they sit down for their historic summit in a hotel on the Sentosa island in Singapore on Tuesday.—AFP

SINGAPORE: US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a largely symbolic summit on Tuesday, and the US president offered an unexpected concession to the North, saying he would halt joint military exercises with South Korea.

The two men smiled and shook hands before pledging at their historic summit to work toward the “denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula. The United States promised its Cold War foe security guarantees.

The meeting in Singapore, the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, was in stark contrast to a flurry of North Korean nuclear and missile tests and angry exchanges of insults between Trump and Kim last year that fuelled global worries about war.

US president offers to end war games; two leaders vow to work toward ‘denuclearisation’ of Korean Peninsula

But in a joint statement afterward, the two men offered few specifics about how the relationship would evolve. Noting North Korean promises in the past to denuclearise, several analysts cast doubt on how effective Trump had been at obtaining his pre-summit goal of banishing North Korea’s “very substantial” nuclear arsenal.

At a news conference later, Trump made a surprise announcement that was sure to rattle South Korea and Japan, which rely on a US security umbrella, saying he would halt the regular military exercises the US holds with South Korea because they were expensive and “very provocative”. North Korea has long sought an end to the exercises.

The summit gave international standing to Kim, one of the world’s most reclusive leaders. His government is under UN sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

The Trump administration said repeatedly before the summit that Washington was seeking steps by North Korea toward complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of a nuclear programme that is advanced enough to pose a threat to the US.

Several experts said the meeting failed to secure any concrete commitments by Pyongyang toward this. The statement also did not refer to human rights in one of the world’s most repressive nations.

Trump said at the news conference he expected the denuclearisation process to start “very, very quickly” and it would be verified by “having a lot of people in North Korea”. He said Kim had announced that North Korea was destroying a major missile engine-testing site, but sanctions on North Korea would stay in place for now.

It was unclear if negotiations would lead to denuclearisation, or end with broken promises, as happened in the past, said Anthony Ruggiero, senior fellow at Washington’s Foundation for Defence of Democracies think-tank.

“This looks like a restatement of where we left negotiations more than 10 years ago and not a major step forward,” he said.

The joint statement, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”.

Kim said after the summit he and Trump had “decided to leave the past behind. The world will see a major change.” Trump’s meeting with Kim, who he described in warm terms at the news conference, followed days of berating traditional US allies such as Canada and Germany in trade disputes.

Trump’s announcement that he would stop military exercises with old ally South Korea was a surprise even to the government in Seoul. South Korea’s presidential Blue House said it needed “to find out the precise meaning or intentions” of Trump’s statement, while adding that it was willing to “explore various measures to help the talks move forward more smoothly”.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2018