June 13, 2018
On April 22 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said that “under the proven condition of complete nuclear weapons, we no longer need any nuclear tests, mid-range and intercontinental ballistic rocket tests, and that the nuclear test site in northern area has also completed its mission.” And, in a span of a few months, DPRK’s “reclusive leader” moved to the center stage of world diplomacy almost as an astute statesman, one who acts but avoids unnecessary talk. He visited China twice; he met South Korean President Moon Jae-in twice; Secretary of State Pompeo visited him twice in Pyongyang and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov delivered him an invitation by President Putin to visit Russia.
Throughout the Singapore summit President Trump acted as if he was the host. His body language and remarks were designed to underline who was the principal actor. The meeting no doubt also had an internal politics dimension. After the talks, President Trump said that he had formed a very special bond with Kim Jong Un. Thus, he showed once again that he is determined to remain Mr. Unpredictable.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim signed a Joint Statement which must have been the subject of intense negotiations between high officials.
Through the Statement, Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his country’s firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The United States and the DPRK committed to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations; to join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Peninsula; to hold follow-on negotiations, led by the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date.
After the summit, President Trump held an hour-long, more than 20-page press conference which attracted more attention the Joint Statement. He heaped words of praise on Chairman Kim. Below are his more striking remarks and the conclusions I draw:
- (On foreign policy outlook) “The past does not have to define the future. Yesterday’s conflict does not have to be tomorrow’s war. And as history has proven over and over again, adversaries can indeed become friends.”
- (On the summit give-and-take) “Chairman Kim has told me that North Korea is already destroying a major missile engine testing site. That’s not in your signed document … I got that after we signed the agreement. I said, ‘Do me a favor. You’ve got this missile engine testing site. We know where it is because of the heat. It’s incredible the equipment we have, to be honest with you.’ I said, ‘Can you close it up?’ He’s going to close it up.
- (On Korea’s future) “The current state of affairs cannot endure forever. The people of Korea — North and South — are profoundly talented, industrious, and gifted. These are truly gifted people. They share the same heritage, language, customs, culture, and destiny. But to realize their amazing destiny, to reunite their national family, the menace of nuclear weapons will now be removed.
- (On sanctions) “The sanctions will come off when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor. Sanctions played a big role, but they’ll come off at that point. I hope it’s going to be soon, but they’ll come off. As you know, and as I’ve said, the sanctions right now remain. But at a certain point, I actually look forward to taking them off.
- (On US military presence in South Korea) “I want to bring our soldiers back home. We have, right now, 32,000 soldiers in South Korea, and I’d like to be able to bring them back home. But that’s not part of the equation right now.
- (On US-South Korea joint military exercises) “We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should. But we’ll be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus, I think it’s very provocative… And we call them “war games,” and I call them “war games.” Under the circumstances we are negotiating a comprehensive and complete deal. It is inappropriate to have war games.The amount of money that we spend on that is incredible. And South Korea contributes, but not 100 percent, which is certainly a subject that we have to talk to them about also. And that has to do with the military expense and also the trade.
- (On his earlier rhetoric against Kim Jong Un) “I think, without the rhetoric, it wouldn’t have happened.
- (On exchange of visits with Chairman Kim) “Well, at a certain time, I will. I said that will be a day that I look very much forward to, at the appropriate time. And I also will be inviting Chairman Kim, at the appropriate time, to the White House.
- (On timetable for denuclearization) “Well, you know, scientifically, I’ve been watching and reading a lot about this, and it does take a long time to pull off complete denuclearization… I think we will do it as fast as it can be done scientifically, as fast as it can be done mechanically. I don’t think — I mean, I’ve read horror stories. It’s a 15-year process. Okay? Assuming you wanted to do it quickly, I don’t believe that. I think whoever wrote that is wrong. But there will be a point at which, when you’re 20 percent through, you can’t go back.”
- (On establishing diplomatic relations and exchanging ambassadors) “Hopefully soon. But we’ll have to get things moving first.
- (On how North Korea is going to foot the bill for denuclearization while the sanctions remain in place.) “I think that South Korea and I think that Japan will help them very greatly. I think they’re prepared to help them. They know they’re going to have to help them. I think they’re going to help them very greatly. We won’t have to help them. The United States has been paying a big price in a lot of different places. But South Korea, which obviously is right next door, and Japan, which essentially is next door, they’re going to be helping them. And I think they’re going to be doing a very generous job and a terrific job. So they will be helping them.”
- The Singapore summit marks the relaunching, under more favorable circumstances and with a lot of theatre, of decades of diplomatic negotiations with Pyongyang on denuclearization. However, the DPRK is now an established nuclear power. Thus, there is a long road ahead and a US president with little patience.
- President Trump may hope “the process denuclearization to happen very quickly” under his watch, but only hours before the meeting Joseph Y. Yun, former US Special Representative for North Korea Policy, quoting an expert’s view, told CNN’s Christian Amanpour that under the best circumstances this could take a decade. One may conclude therefore that in the negotiations soon to be launched, the Trump White House would insist on rapid denuclearization and Kim Jong Un on the need to rapidly normalize relations and at least a gradual lifting of sanctions.
- Sanctions remain in place until the more significant first one-fifth of the road toward denuclearization is covered, whatever this might mean in technical terms.
- President Trump’s ambition apparently goes beyond a nuclear deal and extends to bringing lasting peace to Korea and earning a place in history.
- His mentioning a wish to bring US troops home must have delighted Peking and worried Seoul and Tokyo.
- Trump’s foreign policy will continue its roller-coaster pattern with lots of rhetoric. One day he would call a leader of an ally weak and dishonest, the next day he would refer to him as a friend. His saying that he has a good relationship with both PM Trudeau and Chairman Kim is particularly revealing.
- It seems that under Mr. Trump conventional diplomacy will give way to preferably one-to-one deal-making with no mention of agreements, treaties and multilateralism.
- The Trump administration will engage its partners and adversaries, but the emphasis would be on low-cost, no-cost deals. To the surprise of many, Mr. Trump suggested that Russia should return to the G-8 only to impose new sanctions the next day.
- Trade disputes if not wars are likely to continue and there will be no exceptions.
- All in all, the world would look at the Singapore summit as a sign of hope but watch the follow-up with apprehension.
- Sadly, the people of Iran will be an outstanding exception. They should be extremely frustrated, asking themselves if they would ever become friends again with their principal adversary. President Trump’s constant targeting of Iran does not bode well for the Middle/Miserable East. It is high time for the P4+Germany will get their act together and save the JCPOA.