North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump walk with the documents they just signed at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in Singapore. (Pool Photo by Anthony Wallace via AP)
The summit between President Trump and North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un is over and now the real battle begins: that of competing narratives. The White House sees this, rightfully, as a historic meeting with immense potential. The detractors are saying that the only tangible benefits from the summit accrue on Kim’s side of the ledger. I think there are two parts to this. The first is Singapore. The second is what happens next. let’s start with Singapore and the joint statement:
Joint Statement of President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit
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 (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
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 provide 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 the 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 the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work 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.
Having acknowledged that the U.S-DPRK summit — the first in history — was an epochal event of great significance in overcoming decades of tensions and hostilities between the two countries and for the opening up of a new future, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un commit to implement the stipulations in this joint statement fully and expeditiously. The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the U.S.-DPRK summit.
President Donald J. Trump of the United States 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.
A moment in history: The first meeting between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader. US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un greet each other before the #TrumpKimSummit #SingaporeSummit pic.twitter.com/xvijlxDjNm
— The Straits Times (@STcom) June 12, 2018
There is nothing in the declaration that is either untoward or unexpected. The door to a peace treaty and diplomatic recognition are nudged open but no one stepped through them. The DOD POW/MIA Accounting Agency has been active in North Korea for some time. We still don’t have a definition of “denuclearization.”
Kim did get some things for domestic consumption. Meeting Trump one-on-one will have improved his status at home. Kim did not get sanctions relief but he seems to have gotten an agreement that the US will stop major military exercises in South Korea:
— POLITICO (@politico) June 12, 2018
Factually, FOAL EAGLE is already over for 2018 and it can be restarted if need be. So while it doesn’t represent anything of note right now, it did give Kim something to take home. What Kim did not get was any commitment to reduce US forces in South Korea.
Do we care about Kim’s authority in North Korea being strengthened? The bottom line answer there depends upon whether you want North Korea to go through with giving up its nuclear weapons. If you do, then raising Kim’s prestige at home gives him more maneuver room. (I am totally discounting the rather bizarre notion that Kim’s international standing was raised by meeting with Trump. North Korean sanctions are still in place. Nations are not flocking to open businesses in Pyongyang. There is no mention of a “burger joint” in the statement.)
I am a firm believer that, as Winston Churchill said, “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.” Last November I would have been willing to bet good money that we’d be bombing the snot out of North Korea by October 2018. I think the chance of that happening has dropped dramatically. If the summit continues North Korea’s moratorium on ballistic missile tests and nuclear tests then we are further ahead than we were last year. Having said that, I found the summit to be on the disappointing side. I really believe that Trump should have insisted on something substantive –and we were sort of led in that direction by Mike Pompeo.
The proposed summit offers a historic opening for @POTUS and Chairman Kim to boldly lead U.S. and #DPRK into a new era of peace, prosperity, and security. Our countries face a pivotal moment in which it could be nothing short of tragic to let this opportunity go to waste. pic.twitter.com/DDkTqnlI2n
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) May 31, 2018
In fact, Trump leaving Singapore immediately after the summit indicates that the US side was more optimistic about what was possible than the North Koreans. This, of course, leads to the concern that perhaps Trump became too personally invested in the deal to be able to walk away from it.
The next steps are critical. The critique that the Singapore statement is warmed over previous agreements recycled and repackaged has some truth to it. That is not a valid criticism of the agreement but it is a warning about the importance of keeping up the pressure to move beyond a statement to action. Many people have taken wedding vows twice, the real question is did they learn anything from the first, failed, experience.
My comment to a doctoral classmate and former Blue House official on the Joint Statement: "Only four broad points, but it’s a meaningful document as long as Trump doesn’t turn his attention elsewhere and start to forget Kim Jong Un."
— Dr. Mark P. Barry (@DrMarkPBarry) June 12, 2018
There are a lot of esoteric takes about the Trump-Kim summit that sidestep the rather important question of whether the talks reduce the likelihood of nuclear war.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) June 12, 2018
To put a finer point on this, 90% of the punditocracy's commentary on the Singapore summit seems to be constructed with the goal of convincing people that Trump shouldn't get any credit for it—rather than rationally analyzing the merits and demerits of the "deal". https://t.co/lMHC1UyaDo
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) June 12, 2018
China has already started making noises about wanting sanctions reduced. Relaxing either the quantity of sanctions or the strictness with which we are enforcing them would be a very bad idea. We will hear in the very near future if the US is reducing economic pressure because any anti-Trump info leaks fast.
There should be movement in the disarmament arena in weeks, not months.
A peace treaty with South Korea and with the UN (remember the Korean War was fought under UN auspices) needs to start shaping up.
There needs to be measurable and observable progress in North Korea’s behavior in regards to arms smuggling, counterfeiting, and drug running.
The inter-Korean border needs to show signs of demilitarization. Those artillery pieces that allegedly can hit Seoul need to be moved further north.
While I found the outcome to be less than I’d hoped, there is room for optimism. We’ll find out in the next three months just how serious Kim is about the commitments made in the joint statement.