President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un praised their progress at Tuesday’s summit in Singapore toward getting rid of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. But Trump faced sharp questions at home about whether he got little and gave away much — including a promise to stop U.S. military exercises with South Korea.
Meeting on a Singapore island, Trump and Kim had come together for a meeting that seemed unthinkable months earlier when the two nations traded insults and nuclear threats.
Both leaders expressed optimism throughout five hours of talks, with Trump thanking Kim afterward “for taking the first bold step toward a bright new future for his people.” Kim promised that “the world will see a major change.”
Soon, Kim was on a plane headed home, while Trump talked to the media for more than an hour about what he called a historic achievement to avoid nuclear war.
The details of how and when the North would get rid of its nuclear weapons appear yet to be determined. It’s also not clear what “protections” Trump pledged to Kim and his government.
During his news conference, Trump admitted that getting rid of the weapons won’t happen overnight. But he said, “Once you start the process it means it’s pretty much over.” A 1994 agreement between North Korea and the United States to stop the North from developing nuclear weapons eventually fell apart, however.
The Singapore accord basically amounts to an agreement to continue talks. It does not, for instance, take steps toward ending the technical state of war between the United States and North Korea. (The Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.)
Nor does the agreement include an offer Trump told reporters he made to freeze U.S. military “war games” with ally South Korea while negotiations between the United States and the North continue. Trump said he wanted to end the war games to save money, but he also called the exercises “inappropriate” while talks continue. North Korea has long called the drills a security threat.
It was unclear whether South Korea was aware of Trump’s decision before he announced it publicly. U.S. military forces in Korea said in a statement Tuesday it was unaware of any policy change. Trump phoned South Korean President Moon Jae-in after leaving Singapore to brief him on the discussions.
Trump also said Kim promised to demolish a missile-engine testing site, though it was just one site of many connected to the nuclear program.
North Korea is believed to have more than 50 nuclear warheads, with its atomic program spread across more than 100 sites. Trump insisted that inspections would be part of the final agreement to end the North’s nuclear program. He said his team would begin sorting out that arrangement with the North Koreans next week.
The U.S. president brushed off questions about his public embrace of a leader whose people have been oppressed for decades. A United Nations report in 2014 estimated that the North Korean government held 80,000 to 120,000 people in political prison camps.
Trump said he has chosen to talk with Kim in hopes of saving as many as 30 million lives.