After a historic meeting in Singapore, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un pledged to work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. The US president committed to give security guarantees to North Korea.
The leaders signed a document containing four points of agreement between their countries. It gave no details on how the statements of intent would be achieved.
There was no mention of the international sanctions that have squeezed North Korea’s economy, in response to Pyongyang’s pursuit of its nuclear weapons programme.
Early reaction includes much criticism of the declaration for lacking detail. However, the event overall is being seen as a positive development, given the recent tension surrounding the Korean peninsula and potential for a major conflagration.
What does the document say?
The preamble stated that both leaders had “conducted a comprehensive, in-depth, and sincere exchange of opinions” on issues relating to relations and peace.
“President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK (North Korea), while Kim Jong Un “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.
The four points, discernable in photographs of the document are:
- "The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
- "The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula
- "Reaffirming the April 27,2018 Panmunjeom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula
- "The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified."
What does it amount to?
Many analysts have already said they’re disappointed with the content for lacking detail and providing little that is new. Others argue that it’s a positive step towards improving relations, representing major progress given recent tensions.
In particular, as is acknowledged in point three of the document, North Korea had already made the same commitment at the summit between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the end of April. It set out to achieve, “through complete denuclearisation, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has put pressure on North Korea to accept “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation” (CVID). He said the summit would set a framework for “hard work” to follow.
At his post-summit news conference, Donald Trump said North Korea had already set about destroying a testing site.
There is no indication as to what the “security guarantees” that Trump has pledged to North Korea will consist of. The US has nearly 30,000 troops on the Korean peninsula and regularly carries out military drills with South Korea. Seoul has insisted that they will remain, whatever the outcome of negotiations with the North.
Trump said at his news conference that the US would be “stopping the war games” unless it appeared that progress towards denuclearisation was going off track.
The fourth and final point of the communique refers to prisoners of war and those missing in action during the Korean War of 1950-53, in which the United States fought on the side of North Korea. US veterans organisations had put pressure on the Trump administration to keep the issue on the agenda in Singapore.
What is missing from the declaration?
The document contains no interpretation of the term “denuclearisation”. There is no indication of a timescale, or about future inspections. However, Trump said at his news conference that the process will be verified “by having a lot of people there”, and that there would be a combination of American and international observers.
He added that he thought denuclearisation would begin “right away”. The document says "follow-on negotiations" will be held "at the earliest possible date".
Many who are wary of North Korea, notably Japan, have highlighted the danger from its conventional weapons. Pyongyang has fired intermediate range ballistic missiles over Japanese territory. There is no mention of these in the document, only vague commitments to “peace, prosperity and security”.
The declaration contains no reference to human rights. North Korea is seen as having just about the worst record in the world. An estimated 120,000 people are held in prison camps and many more are said to have died through forced labour.
At his news conference, Trump said human rights had been discussed “briefly”, less than the issue of denuclearisation, and that Kim “wants to do the right thing”.
Japan has also complained that several of its citizens have been abducted by North Korea, another issue not addressed in the joint communique.
What else can we deduce from the summit?
The Singapore summit put North Korea’s leader alongside the president of the world’s most powerful country, on equal terms. The two countries’ flags appeared side by side. Critics say the event amounts to a propaganda coup for Pyongyang.
North Korea has made similar commitments in the 1990s and yet was later seen to having reneged on them.
Some observers have contrasted Trump’s respectful, even admiring tone towards his one-time adversary with his contempt for Western allies at last weekend’s G7 summit. The US president said he had formed a “very special bond” with Kim.
The summit has been compared to former US President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, which was seen has having brought major changes in the country. If it does lead to lasting détente, it could fundamentally change the security landscape in Northeast Asia.
Kim Jong Un said the two leaders had “decided to leave the past behind” and that “the world will see a major change”.
“We are going to take care of a very dangerous problem for the world,” Trump said.
The path towards such progress may see the North Korean leader visit Washington in due course. The US president has confirmed he has invited Kim to the White House.
China – another key player in the region which will not want to be ignored - has welcomed the summit. But its chief diplomat also warned it needs to be followed up by a proper peace mechanism.
Observers will be watching for signs of concrete steps towards disarmament – as well as on other issues given less priority by the two leaders. Otherwise the fear is the summit will indeed be viewed retrospectively exactly as Kim Jong Un said it appeared, when he told Trump through a translator: “the world will think of this as a scene from a fantasy… a science fiction movie”.