President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Singapore and signed what Trump called a “comprehensive” document in which North Korea agreed to move toward ending its nuclear weapons program, and the United States said it would halt joint military exercises with South Korea.
Many details remain unresolved, including the concrete steps that North Korea will take in the denuclearization process. Still, the summit was a historic moment with some clear winners and losers.
The president set a very high bar for himself, predicting that he would know “within the first minute” whether Kim is serious about denuclearization and even entertaining the prospect of winning a Nobel Peace Prize. In reality, no single meeting could convince the world that North Korea is now a good-faith negotiator.
Nevertheless, the summit was Trump's most statesmanlike performance to date and represented a significant de-escalation of tensions between nuclear powers. In the run-up to the meeting, Trump enjoyed unusually positive news coverage.
The mere occurrence of the summit was a victory for Kim, an international pariah suddenly accorded the respect of a bilateral meeting with the president of the United States. One goal of North Korea's nuclear program has been to command higher status on the global stage, and the sit-down with Trump advanced its cause.
Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song
Three Americans held captive by North Korea were among the biggest beneficiaries of diplomatic progress between the Kim regime and the United States. They were freed and returned home in May.
The secretary of state helped lay groundwork for the summit even before he became secretary of state. It was apparent in March, when Pompeo was still director of the CIA, that the president viewed him as an important player in diplomatic talks. After Trump nominated Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson in April, Trump dispatched Pompeo to North Korea on a secret mission before the Senate had confirmed him.
More than anyone else in the Trump administration, Pompeo elevated his status in the course of talks with North Korea.
The summit host got an economic boost. “From summit-themed burgers and online scalpers peddling 'World Peace' medallions and 'Peace Out from Lion City' T-shirts, Singaporeans are cashing in,” Reuters reported.
Long mocked for his naive infatuation with North Korea, the Hall of Fame basketball star traveled in Singapore and was legitimized like never before.
Rodman made an appearance during CNN's coverage of the summit and said the White House had called to thank him for past overtures to Kim.
Rodman, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo told viewers, “is our best resource, right now, for understanding the minds of the two men, especially Kim Jong Un — as weird as that is to say.”
“I agree,” said James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence.
The Canadian prime minister became collateral damage in Trump's mission to project strength, heading into the Kim summit.
En route to Singapore over the weekend, having left early from a gathering of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, Trump blasted Trudeau as “dishonest” and “weak.” Trump's outburst seemed a disproportionately intense response to Trudeau's relatively mild assertion that Canadians “will not be pushed around,” but White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow later told CNN that the president's fury was “in large part” about sending a message to Kim.
“He is not going to permit any show of weakness on the trip to negotiate with North Korea,” Kudlow said, “nor should he.... Kim must not see American weakness.”
The rest of the G-7
With Trump looking ahead to the Kim summit, he appeared unwilling to give G-7 nations his full attention at a gathering in Canada. The president complained privately to aides about having to meet with G-7 allies, saying his time would be better spent preparing for Kim.
Trump proceeded to pull the United States out of the group's joint statement on “free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade.”
North Korean citizens
One side effect of the nuclear-focused summit in Singapore is that human rights issues were pushed aside.
“No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea,” Trump said in his State of the Union address early this year. He said nothing of the sort in Singapore, however.
“He is very talented,” Trump said of Kim at a news conference. “Anybody that takes over a situation like he did, at 26 years of age, and is able to run it and run it tough — I don't say it was nice or I don't say anything about it — he ran it. Very few people at that age — you can take one out of 10,000, probably, couldn't do it.”