President Trump and Kim Jong Un signed a one-page joint statement at a ceremony in Singapore on Tuesday affirming their “unwavering commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” Trump hailed the agreement as very important, comprehensive and far better than expected .
Experts called the agreement “vague” and “old news” and pointed out that it falls short of goals the U.S. outlined prior to the Singapore summit.
They pointed out that the signed document does not detail the steps North Korea will take to denuclearize or how the U.S. might verify that process. The president described it as the first step in a long negotiation process.
On the other hand, other experts stressed that the agreement marks a dramatic turning point between the U.S. and North Korea, which appeared to be on the brink of war only months ago when Trump and Kim were hurling apocalyptic warnings at one another.
How the leaders described the agreement
Kim called the document “historic” and said it would lead to a new era in the U.S.-North Korea relationship. “We had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind… The world will see a major change,” Kim said. Trump called the meeting “honest, direct and productive.”
“It’s a first bold step toward a bright new future for his people,” Trump said. “Our unprecedented meeting … proves that real change is indeed possible … adversaries can indeed become friends. We can honour the sacrifice of our forefathers by replacing the horrors of battle with the blessings of peace.”
What is in the agreement?
Speaking to reporters a few hours after the signing ceremony, Trump said the two leaders had agreed to engage in “vigorous negotiations to implement the agreement as soon as possible,” though he provided no timetable for future talks.
When pressed to explain what exactly “complete denuclearization” means, Trump said only that the process would be done as “fast as can be done scientifically [and] mechanically.”
Trump stressed that the 403-word document is a work in progress and was limited by the whirlwind nature of the summit in Singapore. In the agreement, the U.S. agrees to offer some unspecified “security guarantees” to Pyongyang in exchange for an “unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
The agreement said “the U.S. and North Korea agreed to establish new diplomatic relations in an effort to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”
At the press conference, Trump said that the U.S. will halt or suspend military exercises in South Korea, describing it as “war games,” and promising U.S. taxpayers they will save a “tremendous amount of money” if they end.
Trump told reporters that North Korea will close a missile engine-testing site, an agreement not in the signed document but verbally added by the two countries at the end of the discussions. He added that the U.S. and North Korea agreed to commit to recovering, identifying and repatriating the remains of soldiers killed in the Korean War.
At the same time, Trump stressed that the U.S. sanctions on North Korea will remain in place until the process is further down the road. “Our eyes are wide open. … sanctions will come off when we’re sure the nukes are no longer a factor,” Trump said.
The experts and commentators views on the agreement
Some commentators criticized what they called a “vague” agreement. Some also pointed out that three of the four points outlined in the memorandum echoed Kim’s agenda for the meeting, as outlined by North Korea’s goal to give up as little as possible, whereas the U.S. goal was to get as much as possible.
Mintaro Oba, a former State Department expert on the Koreas said, “North Korea had a lower bar for success and that gave them the upper hand, something which is reflected in a statement that largely stays true to North Korea’s existing positions.”
Oba characterized the summit agreement as a “warm and fuzzy pile of generalities and old news.” He pointed out that there is no timetable for denuclearization.
Anthony Ruggiero, senior fellow at Washington's Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, said it was unclear if negotiations would lead to denuclearization, or end with broken promises, as had happened in the past.
"This looks like a restatement of where we left negotiations more than 10 years ago and not a major step forward," he said.
Daniel Russel, formerly the State Department's top Asia diplomat, said the absence of any reference to the North's ballistic missiles was "glaring".
What is not in the agreement?
First thing missing in the agreement is a timetable for denuclearization. “It does take a long time to pull off complete denuclearization, scientifically,” Trump said. “You have to wait certain periods of time…but once you start the process it’s pretty much over, you can’t use them, and that will happen soon.”
Second, there are no details about how verification will take place, Oba said, as President Trump vaguely said a mix of U.S. government personnel and independent inspectors would make up a verification team.
Third, there is no clear vision of the future for 29,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and the steps to release Japanese political prisoners.
At the press conference, Trump said, “I brought it up, they’re going to be working on it, they didn’t put it down in the document but they will be working on it.” And when asked about North Korea’s record on human rights, Trump said he will discuss it in more detail with Kim later.
Trump said that his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, would huddle with his North Korean counterparts next week to begin fleshing out the details of the written and verbal agreements.
The president said he will continue talking with the leaders of China, South Korea, and Japan about the summit results. China said after the summit that sanctions relief on North Korea could be considered.
Trump said he will invite Kim to the White House “at the appropriate time,” sometime “further down the road,” adding that another meeting may be in order.