SINGAPORE — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he believes North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will live up to the terms and spirit of their agreement “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
“Honestly I think he’s going to do these things,” Trump said, demonstrating his faith in people and personality over policy as agents for change.
At the end of a high-stakes one-day summit Tuesday, Trump and Kim signed a joint statement that calls for new relations between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a “stable peace regime” on the peninsula, complete denuclearization and the return of the remains of POW/MIAs.
It was a deal that supporters were quick to applaud as an outside-the-box outcome to an historic first meeting between an American president and North Korean leader. For their part, detractors derided the deal as a global-image win for Kim that gave the United States nothing in return.
But Trump was able to argue he achieved more than expected before the summit with the return of three U.S. hostages last month. He also contended that the United States gave up nothing as Washington still is able to impose “maximum pressure” sanctions if Kim does not honor his commitments.
In Washington, many Republicans hailed the fact that Trump was ready to shake things up by engaging in diplomatic talks, while many Democrats warned that such negotiations often end with the United States giving away the store, while elevating the globe’s worst actors.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., charged that by meeting with Kim, Trump “has granted a brutal and repressive dictatorship the international legitimacy it has long craved.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gave a cautious endorsement that relied on Trump’s foreign policy team to make sure Kim delivers. “I support the goals contained in the joint statement. And I remain supportive of the administration’s stated position, as Secretary Pompeo has reiterated,” he said in a statement.
Kim flew back to Pyongyang shortly after the ceremony held at the Capella Singapore hotel on the resort island of Sentosa. Trump left a few hours later.
Before Air Force One took off, an expansive Trump conducted a free-wheeling press conference that lasted more than an hour.
Trump hailed the agreement as a likely a path to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, adding “and it will be verified.”
But critics like Bruce Klingner of the conservative Heritage Foundation noted that the joint statement omitted two key words — “verifiable” and “irreversible” — that have been key to U.S. demands for denuclearization.
In exchange for North Korea’s denuclearization, Trump told reporters, he wanted to bring the 32,000 troops stationed in South Korea back home — an action not included in the statement.
Trump said the United States would disarm as well, by ending “war games” — military exercises routinely conducted with South Korea. Ending the exercises, which Kim considers to be “provocative,” will save U.S. taxpayers “a tremendous amount of money,” he added.
And if Kim fails to deliver, U.S. military action and sanctions can be applied, Trump said.
“We are deeply concerned about the signal Trump sent by calling our joint alliance defensive exercises ‘provocative’,” Kelly Magsamen of the liberal Center for American Progress said in a statement.
The document signed by the two leaders made no reference to North Korea’s well-documented human rights violations. In 2014, a United Nations Commission charged North Korea with such “crimes against humanity” as murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment and rape.
“I feel very sorry that human rights are not being discussed,” North Korean escapee Grace Jo told BBC. “We can’t separate the nuclear issue from human rights issues. They developed nuclear arms while people were dying of starvation, others in prisons.”
During the briefing, however, Trump recalled the awful death of Otto Warmbier, an American student who was arrested in North Korea in 2016 for trying to steal a poster and sentenced to 15 years in jail. Warmbier died in June 2017 shortly after Pyongyang released the 22-year-old near death and in a coma. His parents have sued North Korea for his wrongful death.
“Without Otto, this would not have happened,” Trump maintained as he suggested that Warmbier’s death affected not only Warmbier’s family, but also Pyongyang. He described Warmbier’s death as terrible and brutal, but not in vain, as in the aftermath “a lot of people started to focus on what was going on — including North Korea.”
Trump also told reporters that he used the summit to show Kim a video produced to convince the young leader that a deal could turn his country into a vital, modern powerhouse.
Before Trump strode to the podium, the White House broadcast the video — first a version in Korean, then one in English. The English narrator noted the summit provided a “special moment in time when a man is presented with one chance that may never be repeated. What will he choose? To show vision and leadership? Or not?”
Before the summit, Trump frequently suggested that if Kim acted on a commitment to give up his nuclear program, not only would U.S. sanctions end, but South Korea, Japan and China would also provide financial aid that could turn North Korea into a booming economic success story.
South Korean President Moon Jae-In hailed the agreement as “a feat no one else has ever delivered.” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called it “a crucial first move in the long journey toward lasting peace.”
Contact Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.