The historic meeting in Singapore between President Trump and Kim Jong Un failed to produce a dramatic breakthrough on the issue of the North Korean dictator giving up his nuclear weapons.
However, the first meeting between the two leaders set the stage for future talks on what was billed as a new relationship.
It was the first time an American president met with the leader of communist North Korea, which has been separated from democratic South Korea since the end of World War II.
Kim arrived in Singapore aboard a Chinese commercial airliner—symbolic of the influence China holds over its communist neighbor as its chief economic and political patron.
The two leaders held about five hours of talks at the Capella hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa island, a resort. The first meeting was limited to Trump, Kim, and two translators. A working lunch was held later with senior officials from both sides.
Kim departed Singapore shortly after the summit ended Tuesday afternoon; Trump boarded Air Force One and began the long flight home several hours later.
Fearing assassination and spying, Kim brought his own food and toilet to the summit to fend off attempted food poisoning and to thwart intelligence-gathering about his diet.
Trump described the meeting afterward as “honest, direct, productive” and told reporters the tasks ahead would involve an “arduous process.”
U.S. sanctions on North Korea would remain, he said, as part of the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems.
Intelligence assessments put the number of North Korean weapons at as many as 30. The country’s newest long-range missiles, the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 were flight tested in July and November respectively and are capable of hitting the United States with a nuclear warhead.
“The current state of affairs cannot endure forever,” Trump said. “The people of Korea—North and South—are profoundly talented, industrious, and gifted. These are truly gifted people. They share the same heritage, language, customs, culture, and destiny. But to realize their amazing destiny, to reunite their national family, the menace of nuclear weapons will now be removed.”
The joint statement issued by the two leaders said Trump agreed to provide unspecified security guarantees to North Korea.
Kim, for his part, “reaffirmed” his commitment to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
However, a Pentagon report recently sent to Congress said Kim is unlikely to give up its nuclear arsenal. In 2013, North Korea enacted a law that declared the country a nuclear weapons state, an indicator Pyongyang does not intend to give up its arms, the report said.
Few specifics emerged after the summit about details of future arms control and security talks to be spearheaded by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The talks will begin soon, Trump said.
The president announced that Kim had agreed privately to dismantle a missile engine testing site.
Trump also said the United States agreed to stop military exercises with South Korea that have been opposed by Pyongyang.
“We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should,” Trump said.
The Pentagon in the past has opposed curbs on military exercises designed to keep U.S. and South Korean forces at a high state of readiness in what the military calls prepared to “fight tonight.”
The joint statement also did not use the preferred American language for ridding North Korea’s nuclear forces—complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement, dubbed CVID.
Trump said international or U.S. verification methods, such as on-site inspectors or satellite surveillance, were discussed during the meetings.
“Yeah, we’ll be verifying,” Trump said when asked about the arms monitoring.
Trump also said Kim mentioned during the meeting that North Korea “took billions of dollars and nothing happened,” during the Bill Clinton administration for nuclear arms limits.
Now, Kim “was very firm in the fact that he wants to do this,” Trump said, referring to denuclearization in exchange for more normalized international relations.
Trump said human rights was discussed and will be addressed in the future.
The joint statement also said North Korea and the United States “commit” to recovering remains of prisoners of war and missing in action including the immediate return of those already identified.
POW activists have said North Korea has not accounted for Americans held by North Korea since the 1950s.
“A critical issue between America and North Korea that has received scant media attention involves the fate of Americans last known alive in North Korean hands and never returned at the end of the Korean War, along with those reported shipped during the war to North Korean allies the Soviet Union and China, as well as U.S. POWs reportedly sent from Vietnam to North Korea, which flew jets against American aviators over the skies of its North Vietnamese ally during the Vietnam War,” said Mark Sauter, a noted researcher and activist.
The joint statement also made no reference to North Korea’s arms proliferation. Pyongyang has collaborated in the past with Iran on missiles and is considered one of the world’s most dangerous suppliers of missiles and missile technology.
North Korea twice before agreed to end its nuclear arms program, but ended up fooling successive U.S. administrations about its plans and intentions while covertly developing an extensive nuclear arms infrastructure and missiles of increasing range.
The 1994 Agreed Framework during the administration of President Bill Clinton sought to limit North Korea’s nuclear programs but was used by Pyongyang to continuing developing nuclear fuel and missiles.
Then in the early 2000s, Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il agreed to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula at one point during six nation nuclear talks involving the United States, North Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.
Both agreements however failed to limit the North Korean nuclear program, which proceeded apace with both plutonium and uranium production and longer-range and more capable missile systems.
Analysts gave the summit mixed reviews.
Joseph DeTrani, former U.S. special envoy for North Korea, hailed the summit as a significant first step.
“Compared to eight months ago when there was a possibility of stumbling into conflict on the Korean Peninsula, we are now in much better place,” DeTrani said. “We are now looking at comprehensive denuclearization and peace on the peninsula and an eventual normal U.S.- North Korea relationship. That’s significant.”
Heritage Foundation expert Bruce Klingner expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome.
“This is very disappointing,” Klingner said in a tweet. “Each of the four main points was in previous documents with NK, some in a stronger, more encompassing way. The denuke bullet is weaker than the Six Party Talks language. And no mention of CVID, verification, human rights.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) warned there are risks to dealing with Kim Jong Un, who he described in a tweet as a “total weirdo.”
“Any ‘deal’ that doesn’t ultimately bring to an end these atrocities under #KimJongun is not a good deal,” Rubio stated.
North Korea stands accused of engaging in widespread human rights abuses. A 2014 United Nations commission said North Korea’s government was guilty of “crimes against humanity” for the mistreatment of its citizens.
The violations included denial of freedom of thought and religion, and extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial, and gender grounds, and the forcible transfer of populations.
“Hope I’m wrong but still believe they will never give up nukes & ICBM’s unless believe failure to do so triggers regime ending reaction,” the senator said.
Alison Evans, an analyst with IHS Markit, a research firm, said the summit joint statement contained few details and actionable items.
“By committing to work ‘towards’ the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Kim has conceded no more than he did in the 27 April Panmunjom Declaration signed with South Korean President Moon Jae-in,” she stated.
“Rather, the statement implicitly recognizes North Korea as a de facto nuclear weapons state. This lends North Korea, and specifically Kim, legitimacy at home and abroad.”
Suspending joint military exercises also would be a “substantial concession” to North Korea, Evans said.