President Donald Trump walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

It was nearly predictable that once the Trump-Kim summit was over that the North Koreans would spin the story to be as favorable as possible. There is a story in the Wall Street Journal today that basically says, according to North Korean media, that Trump gave away the farm:

North Korea said Wednesday that President Donald Trump had told Kim Jong Un that he intended to halt U.S.-South Korea military exercises and lift sanctions against the North, suggesting through its state media that Mr. Trump had explicitly acceded to two longstanding North Korean demands during bilateral talks at their summit meeting a day earlier.

The report put a distinctly North Korean spin on the summit meeting between the two leaders, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a leader of North Korea. The report quoted Mr. Kim as saying that, if the U.S. were to take “genuine measures for building trust,” then the North could reciprocate in a “commensurate” fashion—a clear suggestion that U.S. concessions would have to come before any North Korean move.

The report also suggested that Mr. Trump had adopted the North’s preferred phased approach toward any denuclearization process, saying the two men had agreed to the “principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action.”

The North Korean report emphasized the equal standing of the two countries, describing the positioning of the two countries’ flags. It also said that the two men were able to enjoy “deepening friendly feelings” during a short stroll together.

None of this is terribly unsurprising. Kim’s performance in Singapore was going to be lauded by the same media that claim he was able to drive at age 3, won a yacht race at age 9, and shot a 38-under-par 34 in his first golf game. Kim is literally considered to be a deity and anything less than total success would be an affront to his divinity. Plus, Kim may be an autocrat but there is obviously unrest within the small group of families that have ruled North Korea as retainers to the Kim family since the 1950s. Just a week ago, several senior officers were suddenly replaced. By establishing the predicate of having gotten everything he demanded in Singapore, Kim has the political maneuver room to make concessions and not lose face…assuming that he is negotiating in good faith.

More to the point, there is no evidence that any of this happened.

On the subject of sanctions:

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And even though I don’t believe in a Chinese or Turkish style Deep State, there is no doubt that the federal bureaucracy is a Democrat fiefdom and the moment there is let up on sanctions we will hear it. The issue of military exercises is also muddled. It is clear both in summit context AND in the context of previous North Korean demands that the military exercises in question are not the day-to-day joint training but he large scale exercises like FOAL EAGLE and ULCHI FREEDOM GUARDIAN.

Interestingly, there is a real question if the North Korean media is actually putting the version the WSJ quotes out monolithically:

I’m not a connoisseur of North Korean media but this says pretty much what the joint statement in Singapore says:

I had a DM with the WSJ reporter and he agrees with the translation and cautions that KCNA is a different kind of outlet.

The basic delineation I’ve heard is KCNA is more for external audiences, Rodong for internal. But…not 100% sure about that. We’re guessing about the internal intentions and motivations and strategies of a regime we know very little about, unfortunately.

This makes sense. Outsiders won’t know sanctions haven’t been lifted. Insiders will.

Expect to see a lot more of this, but let’s keep our eye on the tangibles. Are sanctions in place? Are they being enforced as they were before the summit? Are there measurable and verifiable outcomes emerging from negotiations or is it just more hot air?

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