President Donald Trump said he had “developed a very special bond” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their historic summit here Tuesday, and proclaimed the start of a new era that could break a cycle of nuclear brinkmanship and stave off a military confrontation.
“Yesterday’s conflict does not have to be tomorrow’s war,” Trump said at a news conference in Singapore following more than four hours of talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump said Kim “reaffirmed” his commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and also agreed to destroy a missile site in the country.
“We’re ready to write a new chapter between our nations,” he said.
Trump sounded triumphant following his meeting with Kim, expressing confidence the North Korean leader was serious about abandoning his nuclear program and transforming his country from an isolated rogue regime to a respected member of the world community.
But Trump provided few specifics about what steps Kim would take to back up his promise to denuclearize his country and how the United States would verify that North Korea was keeping its pledge to get rid of its nuclear weapons, saying that would be worked out in future talks.
“We will do it as fast as it can mechanically and physically be done,” he said of the process to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons.
Trump announced that he will order an end to regular “war games” the United States conducts with ally South Korea, a reference to annual joint military exercises that are an irritant to North Korea.
Trump called the exercises “very provocative” and “inappropriate” in light of the optimistic opening he sees with North Korea. Ending the exercises would also save money, Trump said.
The United States has conducted such exercises for decades as a symbol of unity with Seoul, and previously rejected North Korean complaints as illegitimate. Ending the games would be a significant political benefit for Kim, but Trump insisted he had not given up leverage.
“I think the meeting was every bit as good for the United States as it was for North Korea,” Trump said, casting himself as a leader who can secure a deal that has eluded past presidents.
The South Korean president’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Trump’s announcement that he would cancel the military exercises.
At the Shangri La defense dialogue in Singapore earlier this month, South Korea’s defense minister Song Young-moo said that the American military’s activities in South Korea was “a separate issue from North Korea’s nuclear issue”.
“U.S. forces stay in the Korean Peninsula to maintain stability and peace in the Korean Peninsula and North-east Asia,” he said.
At his news conference, Trump called Kim, an absolute ruler accused of massive human rights violations, a transformational leader for his country.
“Today is the beginning of an arduous process. Our eyes are wide open. But peace is always worth the effort,” Trump said.
Trump said human rights issues were raised Tuesday, but did not give details. American college student Otto Warmbier, who died last year days after release from a North Korean prison, “did not die in vain.”
After the series of meetings at Singapore’s secluded and opulent Capella resort, the two leaders sat beside each other and signed what Trump called a “very comprehensive” agreement setting the path forward for negotiations.
The document was not immediately released, but Trump held aloft a copy for news 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.”
When asked about Kim’s commitment to the process of getting rid of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, Trump said: “We are starting that process very quickly. Very, very quickly.”
But the document is an outline, with no specifics or deadlines and leaves the details on key issues such as how the United States 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.
“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,” the agreement reads.
Throughout the day, Trump cast his meetings with Kim in the most positive light.
“We are very proud of what took place today,” Trump said before he and Kim shook hands a final time. “I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean Peninsula is going to be a very much different situation than it has in the past. We both want to do something, we both are going to do something. We have developed a very special bond.”
Trump added: “We are going to take care of a very big and a very dangerous problem for the world.”
Kim thanked Trump for making the summit happen.
“Today we had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind,” Kim said through an interpreter. “The whole world will see a great change.”
Neither leader was specific about what the next step would be, although Trump said he would “absolutely” invite Kim to the White House.
“This is going to lead to more and more and more,” Trump said.
But beneath the remarkable images from the Capella was the thornier reality that the two sides remained divided on crucial issues and on a denuclearization plan, which could take years to complete and would probably face significant stumbling blocks along the way.
Ahead of the meeting, U.S. officials had said that if the session went well it would yield a series of more detailed discussions about ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons in exchange for economic benefits and security assurances.
The two leaders began meeting shortly after 9 a.m. local time, approaching one another from opposite wings on a stage with a red carpet and a row of alternating U.S. and North Korean flags. They shook hands and held their grip before turning to face a small group of journalists for images to be beamed rapidly around the world, both men maintaining serious expressions.
The president motioned to Kim to leave the stage, and the two men retreated into a private chamber to meet one on one, joined only by their interpreters, with the aim of establishing a rapport before the more technical nuclear arms negotiations.
The unprecedented greeting between the unorthodox leader of the world’s richest and most powerful nation and the brutal ruler of the most isolated and repressive would have been considered almost unimaginable just months ago as Trump, 71, and Kim, 34, traded threats and personal insults. Never before had a sitting U.S. president met with a ruling Kim family patriarch, as previous White Houses refused to validate the regime amid its nuclear provocations and human rights abuses.
During an expanded meeting after their one-on-one session, Trump was flanked by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly. Kim was joined by Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, who had visited Trump at the White House two weeks earlier.
Later in the day, after a formal seated luncheon, Trump continued to strike a positive tone.
“It’s going great. We had a really fantastic meeting, lot of progress,” Trump told reporters as he and Kim walked together at the resort. “Really very positive. I think better than anybody could have expected, top of the line. Really good.”
Trump then walked Kim over to his armored presidential limousine. A Secret Service agent held a door open so Kim could peer inside “the Beast.”
In the days before the meeting, with negotiators struggling to reach a basic agreement, Trump and his aides sought to lower expectations about how quickly the administration could persuade Pyongyang to begin dismantling its weapons arsenal.
One major issue that appeared to remain unresolved following the summit was North Korea’s brutal human rights record, which Trump had lambasted last year after the death of American college student Warmbier, who had been held captive in the North for 17 months and then released in a coma.
Trump, who delights in challenging conventional wisdom, seized on the chance to do what other presidents could not and, despite having taken office with scant geopolitical experience, quickly elevated the escalating North Korea threat to his top foreign policy priority. As Pyongyang demonstrated rapidly sophisticated proficiency in its nuclear arsenal, Trump oversaw a tightening of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation of Pyongyang – only to leap in March at Kim’s offer to meet, despite warnings from former U.S. officials that he was moving too quickly and rewarding the regime for its bad behavior.
At 8:53 a.m., a black stretch Mercedes sedan bearing North Korean flags pulled up to the Capella. Kim stepped out in a traditional black Mao suit and quickly entered the building. Trump followed six minutes later, emerging from the presidential limousine in a dark suit and red power tie, and with an impassive stare.
At 9:04 a.m., they strode toward each other and, as they shook hands, Trump patted Kim’s right shoulder with his left hand.
It was the moment of truth for Trump, who last week boasted that he would use his “touch” and his “feel” as a seasoned dealmaker to size up the leader of the world’s most opaque regime and determine within the first minute whether he was serious about making a deal.
Seated next to Kim ahead of the private meeting, Trump said: “It’s my honor, and we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt.”
Kim spoke in Korean of “the old prejudices” that have hampered relations. “But we’ve overcome all of them, and we are here today,” he said.
Trump and his team vowed Monday that the United States would not repeat past missteps. Deals reached between Washington and Pyongyang under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama collapsed after North Korea conducted additional missile and nuclear tests.
“The United States has been fooled before — there’s no doubt about it,” Pompeo told reporters Monday. “Despite any past flimsy agreements, the president will ensure no potential agreement fails to adequately address the North Korean threat.”
On his final day before meeting Kim, Trump sought to consolidate support from key allies, speaking by phone with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who have been in close coordination with the White House for months.
It was Moon’s outreach to Kim around the Winter Olympics, which were held in South Korea in February, that launched a flurry of diplomatic engagements that culminated in the Trump-Kim summit.
At a cabinet meeting in Seoul on Tuesday, Moon said he was so excited that he had had trouble sleeping. “I join all the people in ardently aspiring for the success of the summit to bring complete denuclearization and peace to us and usher in a new era among the two Koreas and the United States,” Moon said.
At Seoul’s main train station, travelers applauded as they watched the handshake between Kim and Trump on a big TV screen.
“I am hopeful now that hostilities will die down,” Lim Sung-gyu, a 24-year-old college student who is waiting to do his South Korean military service, said.
The Washington Post’s Carol Morello in Washington and Brian Murphy in Seoul contributed to this report.
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