After more than four hours of meetings at Singapore’s Capella Resort, the two leaders sat beside each other and signed what Trump called a “very comprehensive” agreement setting the path forward for negotiations between the two countries. The document was not immediately released, but Trump held up a copy for photographers. Images show that the agreement includes a pledge by Trump to “provide security guarantees” to North Korea, while “Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
In an unprecedented move on Tuesday morning, the North Korean people were treated to a rare glimpse of the true world outside of their borders. The front page of North Korea’s primary newspaper was filled with photos of Kim Jong Un taking in the sights and sounds of a modern Singapore awash in light that would seem like near magic to the average North Korean. Why would Kim Jong Un allow such a look? Perhaps this is meant to show his people a future that they never dreamed possible and to present himself as the only person that can bring that future to fruition.
At 9:00 am local time in Singapore, President Trump and Kim met and shook hands on the veranda of the Capella Resort, beginning what is undoubtedly a historic event. Trump is the first sitting American president to sit down with any member of the Kim regime. The two exchanged greetings, spoke briefly with the press, and then held a 45-minute closed-door meeting attended by only their interpreters. Before they left the veranda, Kim’s translator was overheard expressing Kim’s thought in English “Many people in the world will think of this as something from fantasy, like a science fiction movie.”
Next came the expanded meeting between the two leaders and their teams of advisors, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Advisor John Bolton on the American side. Bolton is known for taking a very hard-line in terms of North Korea. They briefly took questions from the press again before getting down to business — the transcripts of which are likely to remain under wraps for many years if previous summits of this nature are any indication. The transcripts of meetings between Gorbachev and Reagan were not released until some 20 years later.
At 11:00 am local time, the parties moved to a working lunch with Trump expressing a sense that things were moving in a positive direction. Then at 1:39 pm local, Kim and Trump emerged and signed a document — an outline really, with no specifics or deadlines that leaves the details on key issues such as how the U.S. would verify that North Korea had given up its nuclear program for future talks. It commits the two leaders to follow-on meetings and a new relationship between the nations, but it does not say that diplomatic relations would be opened. The agreement reads,
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 cooperate 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.”
WHAT ELSE WE KNOW RIGHT NOW
At 4:00 am EST President Trump held a press conference to give the world its first look at agreements reached. Trump began by saying that North Korea “has the potential to be a great place – I think [Kim Jong Un] understands that and he wants to do what’s right.” He then went on the thank Singapore for their hospitality, Japan for its friendship and China for securing its border — though he went on to acknowledge China has been less helpful in that regard in recent months — a minor shot across China’s bow.
Then, discussing the meeting in general, Trump told the crowd:
Now we can all have hope that it will soon end, the past does not have to define tomorrow’s future … Adversaries can indeed become friends … There is no limit to what North Korea can achieve when it gives up its nuclear arms … anyone can make war but only the most courageous can make peace.
Kim has been given an opportunity like no other, to seize and incredibly future for his people”
The media pressed Trump on human rights issues, with the first question coming about the death of Otto Warmbier and how the President could be comfortable referring to Kim as talented. Trump responded that he believed Kim was indeed talented and that the tragic death of Warmbier was an inflection point which helped this summit happen, saying “Otto did not die in vain.” When asked again whether or not he had specifically pushed Kim on human rights violations, Trump said “Yes it was discussed. It will also be discussed in the future.” Trump then went on to talk about what he saw as win on the repatriation of POW/MIA remains, never truly answering the questions about human rights violations.
Trump, when asked what made him confident that this time was different and what made him feel Kim could be trusted, said “He was very firm in the fact that he wants to get this done. He sees a very bright future for North Korea. But you never know.” Trump continued “When he lands I believe that he will start that process right away.” This was a reference to the loose agreement of denuclearization which, in terms of the timeline for that, the President said, “We will do it as fast as we can physically and mechanically be done — sanctions will come off when that is done.” In the meantime, it appears the sanctions will remain in effect.
Continuing to discuss denuclearization, which he saw as the linchpin of the discussions, Trump said “vigorous negotiations” will begin immediately but that Kim had also agreed — after the signing of the document — to the immediate destruction of one of its “nuclear missile engine test sites.”
From a military standpoint — one that will be a topic of great concern and interest for South Korea, — one of the most concerning points Trump made to the audience was about the continuation of joint military exercises with the longtime U.S. ally. “It’s very provocative. I think it’s inappropriate to have war games” he said, implying that there would be discussions forthcoming with Seoul about ending exercises the President felt were too expensive and seen as directly challenging to Pyongyang. “We’re ready to write a new chapter between our nations.”
There may also be historic state visits “at the appropriate time” in the future according to the President saying that he would visit North Korea and that he had invited Kim to the White House.
CHINA’S ROLE MOVING FORWARD
China lost some 900,000 casualties in the Korean War — they have a long history of skin in this North Korean game. But they haven’t been completely unhelpful in recent months, tightening some economic screws on North Korea to bring them more in line. However, though their behavior is better now than in the past, in the past few months their sanctions enforcement has lapsed significantly. So what role might China play in these latest negotiations?
Despite Trump telling the press the opposite, China wants a nuclear North Korea — they like having their pitbull on a leash that can divert the West’s attention when needed. Movement towards normalization of relations between the U.S. and North Korea can severely undercut the narrative of China as global hegemon and this is something the world should expect to see Beijing push back on. How China reacts and what role they will play is something that needs to be watched closely.
While the President will be returning immediately to Washington, Secretary of State Pompeo will leave Singapore and make a swing though Asia to discuss the next steps with South Korea and Japan.
Featured Image: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in Singapore. | AP Photo/Evan Vucci