Home Editor's Pick Trump-Kim summit: Trump says U.S. will end its 'war games' with South Korea

Trump-Kim summit: Trump says U.S. will end its 'war games' with South Korea

Trump-Kim summit: Trump says U.S. will end its 'war games' with South Korea
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SINGAPORE — President Trump said he “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 Kim.

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,” the president said.

Trump sounded triumphant following his meeting with Kim, expressing confidence that the North Korean leader was serious about abandoning his nuclear program and transforming his country from an isolated rogue regime into 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.

The result was a diplomatic breakthrough after decades of hostility, but no guarantee that North Korea would follow through. Trump grounded his optimism in his own confidence that he can read an adversary and that his gamble of attempting personal rapport with a dictator would pay off.

Trump said Kim agreed to shutter a missile engine testing site and to allow the return of remains of American service members lost in North Korea during the Korean War more than 60 years ago.

Kim, it seems, got at least one benefit up front.

Trump announced that he will order an end to regular “war games” that 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 did not give 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.

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 Otto Warmbier, who was held captive in the North for 17 months and then released in a coma. The University of Virginia student died days after he was flown home to his family in Ohio.

Trump said human rights issues were raised Tuesday, but he did not give details or suggest that he conditioned U.S. offers on Kim making improvements. He said Warmbier “did not die in vain.”

U.S. sanctions will remain in place for now, Trump said. Some of those sanctions relate to human rights, others to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

South Korea’s presidential office seemed blindsided by the announcement on the joint exercises.

“We need to try to understand what President Trump said,” a spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in said.

However, he said, South Korea understood the need to try to make progress in North Korea’s relations with the United States.

“We believe we need to pursue various measures to efficiently move the dialogue forward during serious ongoing talks to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and to establish good relations between North Korea and the United States,” the spokesman said.

The U.S. military command in South Korea “has received no updated guidance on execution or cessation of training exercises,” said a spokeswoman, Col. Jennifer Lovett. Those exercises include the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills scheduled for August.

“In coordination with our [South Korean] partners, we will continue with our current military posture until we receive updated guidance from the Department of Defense,” she said.

There was no immediate reaction to the summit’s results from North Korean state media.

The American and South Korean militaries hold huge exercises every spring and fall in which they rehearse attacking North Korea or responding to the sudden collapse of the regime.

The drills usually involve about 23,700 American troops and 300,000 South Korean troops, and the United States sends in bombers including B-1s and B-52s, stealth planes and nuclear-capable submarines.

As Kim has become increasingly belligerent in recent years, the exercises have become more aggressive. Recent drills have included “decapitation” strikes aimed at taking out the North Korean leadership.

North Korea always protests the exercises but has taken particular offense at the decapitation strikes against Kim, who is portrayed by the regime as a demi-god.

At the Shangri-La defense dialogue in Singapore earlier this month, South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said the American military’s activities in South Korea were “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 Northeast Asia,” he said.

At his news conference, Trump praised Kim, an absolute ruler accused of massive human rights violations, calling him 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.

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 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 it 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 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 reality that the two sides remained divided on crucial issues and have not articulated a denuclearization plan. Successful eradication could take years to complete and would probably face significant technical and political stumbling blocks.

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.

Whether Trump made a bold stroke for peace or gave away the store depended on one’s view.

Joe Cirincione, and arms control specialist at the Ploughshares Fund, tweeted cautious praise.

“Bottom line: Tensions on Korean Peninsula have been reduced; danger of war has receded,” he wrote. “We have a process towards peace endorsed by hard-liners in both North Korea & US; but this could all collapse unless there is a lot more done to concretize these vague promises and quickly.”

Robert E. Kelly, an analyst at Pusan University in South Korea, said Trump “gave the summit for nothing” and got little more than promises.

“Trump is a dove on North Korea,” Kelly tweeted.

Some defense experts were alarmed at Trump’s sudden announcement that he would end joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, particularly with the way he described the maneuvers as “provocative” and “expensive.”

“This betrays how he views our alliances in general,” said Kelly Magsamen, who served as a senior official on Asia in the Pentagon during the Obama administration.

By calling off the exercises, Trump was essentially agreeing to China’s demand for a “freeze for freeze” — the U.S. halting military exercises in return for North Korea stopping military and nuclear tests.

“He could have modified the exercises to improve the dynamic, but the reason we do this is to maintain the readiness of American forces,” Magsamen said. “It would be far more expensive to undertake military activity without a fully trained military. You can’t buy enough readiness to address the threats facing the United States,” she said.

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.

The two met one on one, with only interpreters in the room, for their first session.

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 vehicle dubbed “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 nuclear weapons arsenal.

Trump, who delights in challenging conventional wisdom, seized on the chance to do what other presidents could or would 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.”

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,” said Lim Sung-gyu, a 24-year-old college student who is waiting to do his South Korean military service.

david.nakamura@washpost.com

philip.rucker@washpost.com

anna.fifield@washpost.com

anne.gearan@washpost.com

Carol Morello in Washington and Brian Murphy in Seoul contributed to this report.

 

This article was written by David Nakamura, Philip Rucker, Anna Fifield and Anne Gearan from The Washington Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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