Trump- Kim summit: Building new relations between Washington, Pyongyang

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un became the first sitting US president and North Korean leader to meet, in an unprecedented development after a year of exchanging threats. Defusing tensions and nuclear disarmament were the focal points of discussion between the two leaders.

The pair shook hands at a luxury hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa Island before proceeding to talks. After the summit, the leaders signed a “comprehensive” document, promising a new relationship between the two nations. The document commits North Korea to work towards “the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” and promises “new relations” between Washington and Pyongyang. The US had demanded “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation”. There was also a commitment to build “a stable and lasting peace” on the Korean peninsula.

“I think both sides will be very impressed with the result,” Mr. Trump said at a signing ceremony with Mr. Kim. Mr. Trump spoke of a “special bond” with the North Korean leader and said he was “absolutely” willing to invite him to the White House. “We’ve decided to leave the past behind,” Mr. Kim said. “The world will see major changes.” Still, analysts remain divided on what the summit will ultimately achieve. Some see it as a propaganda win for Mr. Kim, others a potential path to peace. The summit began with a striking image, unimaginable just months ago. The two men walked towards each other and firmly gripped each other’s hands in front of US and North Korean flags. Mr. Trump patted Mr. Kim’s arm as they stood on the red carpet and exchanged a few words before turning to face the gathered press. “I feel really great. We’re going to have a great discussion and will be tremendously successful,” the US president said. Sitting alongside each other, ahead of a one-on-one meeting, the pair appeared relaxed against the odds. “It was not easy to get here,” Mr. Kim said. “There were obstacles but we overcame them to be here,” and his counterpart responded, “That’s true.”

The two men, accompanied only by interpreters, spoke for a little under 40 minutes. They were then joined by small delegations of advisors for a working lunch. From Washington, the group included US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Security Adviser John Bolton, and on Pyongyang’s side, Mr. Kim’s “right-hand man” and former spy chief Kim Yong-chol, and Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho. Over lunch, they shared a mix of Western and Korean dishes, including stuffed cucumbers and Daegu jorim, a soy-braised fish dish. The unprecedented event carries great potential prestige for each leader – but also, in the long run, a possibly catastrophic loss of face. For the moment, Mr. Trump will credit any successful outcome of talks to his “maximum pressure” campaign on North Korea, that tightened economic sanctions and threatened military action. Many believe that no matter what is achieved this will be the narrative.

For Mr. Kim, securing a stage with the US leader is seen as a victory in itself, something which neither his father nor his grandfather could achieve. Such a meeting has long been seen as a prize in the eyes of North Korea for the legitimacy it would confer on its leader.

For decades, North Korea has been a pariah state, and now its latest hereditary leader is being treated as a world statesman. Last year, it would have been a rare sight to see a North Korean flag flying anywhere in Asia. Now, Mr. Kim – who runs a totalitarian regime with extreme censorship and forced-labour camps – is meeting and greeting dignitaries. On the eve of the summit, Mr. Kim toured Singapore’s tourist sites, waving to excited crowds and snapped a selfie with the city state’s foreign minister. Tuesday’s front page of North Korea’s official newspaper featured the extraordinary scenes on display in Singapore, offering many in the country an unprecedented glimpse of their leader in a setting utterly at odds with their daily life. This is an outcome that seemed unimaginable less than a year ago when Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim exchanged streams of fiery insults – and North Korea conducted several ballistic missile tests in defiance of the international community. But earlier this year North Korea showed a new openness to diplomacy and held direct talks with Seoul. The rapid improvement in relations between the North and South Korea – technically still at war – culminated with a historic leaders’ summit in April. During this warming of relations between the two Koreas, Mr. Trump stunned the world by accepting an invitation to meet Mr. Kim.

Signed joint statement:

President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth, and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new U.S.-DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. President Trump committed to providing security guarantees to the DPRK and Chairman Kim Jong-un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Convinced that the establishment of new U.S.-DPRK relations will contribute to peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world, and recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un state the following.

  1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
  2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
  3. Reaffirming April 27, 2018, Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to working toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
  4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

The just-under-three-minute video features footage of Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shaking hands, smiling and signing a joint agreement at the summit in Singapore earlier this week. “We have been working very hard. I made the trip. It was worth every second. It was an incredible event. The people of Asia feel safe, and right now the people from all over the world feel much safer than the days before I was president,” Trump says in the video.

The meeting and the video are a stark contrast to when the two leaders traded insults last summer, including a disagreement over who had a larger nuclear button. Trump talks directly to the camera and praises his talks with Kim as “open, honest, direct and very, very productive.” “This is the beginning of the process toward the denuclearization of North Korea. I sometimes say the ‘denuking’ of North Korea, and those are beautiful words,” Trump said in the video. The clip isn’t the first produced by the White House in connection with the nuclear summit. The administration grabbed headlines by producing a propaganda-esqsue, movie trailer-style video directed at North Korea that paints Trump and Kim as two leaders on the cusp of greatness.

In the video released, Trump says economic sanctions will remain in place, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will work with North Korea in the weeks ahead to craft the details of a denuclearization deal.

“This summit marked a new beginning for relations between the United States and North Korea and it opened the path for a future for all Koreans, north and south. The summit also made a clean break from the failed approaches of past administrations. And failed they were,” Trump said. Trump was met with criticism this week after footage surfaced of him saluting a North Korean general. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at a press briefing Thursday that it is “common courtesy” to salute a military official.

Outcomes of Summit:

The US military has “suspended all planning” for a joint military exercise with South Korea that was scheduled for August, the Pentagon announced. The move comes a week after President Donald Trump pledged to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that he would halt joint “war games” on the Korean Peninsula, calling them “provocative.” In a departure from the military’s usual language, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White referred to the exercise, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, as a “defensive ‘wargame’” in her statement, parroting Trump’s earlier description. Some 17,500 American forces participated in last year’s iteration of Ulchi Freedom Guardian, including 3,000 troops were deployed to South Korea specifically for the exercise.

President Donald Trump wrote online that denuclearization negotiations with North Korea are “going well,” adding that the U.S. would be at war with the repressive communist state if not for him.

“Many good conversations with North Korea-it is going well! In the meantime, no Rocket Launches or Nuclear Testing in 8 months,” the president wrote on Twitter. “All of Asia is thrilled. Only the Opposition Party, which includes the Fake News, is complaining. If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!”

Trump met in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the first known meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. The meeting ended with relatively little in terms of tangible takeaways, but the two men agreed to future talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

The rapid warming of relations with North Korea has been a point of pride for the president, who seemed to revel in the international spotlight that shone on his meeting with Kim. Trump’s success thus far toward denuclearizing North Korea has come where his White House predecessors of recent vintage from both parties have mostly failed, although Pyongyang has for many years made promises on denuclearization that it did not follow through on.

The momentum on denuclearization talks with North Korea mark a stark contrast with the rhetoric of last summer, when Trump and Kim hurled insults and threats at each other across the Pacific, seemingly pulling the two nations closer to open conflict than they had been in several years. North Korea engaged in a series of ballistic missile tests and also tested its largest ever nuclear device, while Trump bragged about the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and threatened to destroy North Korea with “fire and fury.”

Published in Melange Intl. Magazine in July 2018.

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About Erum Akbar 17 Articles
The author is Executive Editor of Mélange int’l Magazine and Secretary Information at Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR).