The historic face-to-face meeting between the leader of the free world and the world’s most notorious dictator was finally held Tuesday in Singapore, as U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un signed an agreement aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, but leaving the details of the denuclearization process subject to future discussions.
In an extraordinary and highly anticipated moment, Trump and Kim met and shook hands Tuesday morning before a backdrop of U.S. and North Korean flags, at the Capella resort on Sentosa island. During the 12-second handshake, Kim said, “Nice to meet you Mr. President,” and Trump responded that it was a “great honor.” In brief comments to the media before his private conversation with Kim, Trump said he believed the two would have “a great discussion and, I think, tremendous success … And we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt.”
Kim then said, “Well, it was not easy to get here. The past worked as fetters on our limbs, and the old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles on our way forward. But we overcame all of them, and we are here today.”
“That’s true,” said Trump.
The two leaders retreated for a private conversation that lasted 38 minutes, joined only by their respective interpreters. A larger meeting was then held, at which Trump and Kim were joined by aides: U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, North Korean Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and former Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong.
Speaking to the media before the expanded meeting, Kim said, “We overcame all kinds of skepticism and speculations about this summit, and I believe that this is a good prelude for peace.”
“I believe, too,” said Trump. “We will solve it. We will be successful and I look forward to working on it with you. It will be done.”
A working lunch followed, with an expanded group of aides.
After lunch, a desk was set up with two chairs for Trump and Kim to hold a signing ceremony. A North Korean official wearing latex gloves cleaned and inspected the pen on the side of the table where Kim, a notorious germaphobe, would be sitting. A brief scuffle broke out as U.S. and North Korean journalists jostled aggressively for position before the two leaders entered and signed an agreement that would be the one tangible result of the Singapore Summit.
The document asserted that “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
According to the agreement, the United States and North Korea commit to establish new relations “in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity”; the two countries “will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula”; reaffirming the Panmunjom Declaration North Korea signed with South Korea in April, North Korea “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”; and the U.S. and North Korea “commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”
The agreement also calls for the countries to hold follow-up negotiations, led by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the U.S.–DPRK summit.”
The agreement made no mention of lifting sanctions on North Korea.
Kim and the North Korean delegation then left Sentosa, formally ending the summit, while Trump remained for a press conference that included the 350-member U.S. press delegation and a limited number of foreign journalists, including those from South Korea and Singapore.
Just before Trump entered for the press conference, journalists were shown a four-minute video – first the Korean version, and then one in English – that Trump had shown Kim and his aides during their meeting, calling on Kim to chart a new course of freedom and prosperity. “Seven billion people inhabit planet Earth,” the narrator begins. “Of those alive today, only a small number will leave a lasting impact. And only the very few will make decisions or take actions that renew their homeland … There comes a time when only a few are called upon to make a difference, but the question is, what difference will the few make? The past doesn’t have to be the future. Out of the darkness can come the light.”
Images of North Korean history flash by, with stark black-and-white shots of military personnel juxtaposed with color images of technology, high-speed trains and other iconography of an advanced economy. The video encourages Kim to “show vision and leadership,” ensuring peace for the world and prosperity for his nation.
“A new world can begin today,” urges the narrator. “One of friendship, respect and good will.”
At the press conference, Trump expressed confidence that Kim would take the necessary steps to denuclearization.
“I think he understands that and he wants to do what’s right,” said Trump, who credited Kim with “taking the first bold step toward a bright new future for his people.”
“Our unprecedented meeting … proves that real change is indeed possible,” said the president, declaring that the two leaders are “prepared to start a new history and … ready to write a new chapter between our nations.”
Trump said Kim had told him that he was also destroying a major missile-testing site. Though not part of the signed document, Trump said that the two had “agreed to that after the agreement was signed.”
In the weeks leading up to the Singapore Summit, the White House had repeatedly stated that the meeting would be just the start of a process, and that a number of further meetings between the two countries might be necessary to hammer out all details of a denuclearization agreement. Trump reiterated that point on Tuesday, emphasizing to a skeptical press corps that the U.S. would not be fooled by empty promises, and would accept only legitimate and verifiable steps toward denuclearization.
“Today is the beginning of an arduous process,” said Trump. “Our eyes are wide open, but peace is always worth the effort, especially in this case.”
He said the sanctions on North Korea will remain until the U.S. is “sure that the nukes are no longer a factor.”
Trump also said he hopes that an agreement will eventually be reached to formally end the Korean War, for which an armistice was signed in 1953.
“The past does not have to define the future,” said Trump. “And as history has proven over and over again, adversaries can indeed become friends. We can honor the sacrifice of our forefathers by replacing the horrors of battle with the blessings of peace.”
As the nuclear negotiations take place, Trump said the U.S. will cease the war games it conducts with South Korea, decrying the expense and saying that they are “provocative” and “inappropriate” while the U.S. is negotiating a “very comprehensive, complete deal” with the North.
These comments seemed to take both South Korea and the U.S. military by surprise. On Tuesday afternoon, a South Korean official released a statement to media outlets saying, “At this moment, the meaning and intention of President Trump’s remarks requires more clear understanding.” And the U.S. forces in Korea had not received any order to stop the joint military drills. In a statement to Reuters, Lt. Colonel Jennifer Lovett, spokeswoman for U.S. Forces in Korea, said, “USFK has received no updated guidance on execution or cessation of training exercises … 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 (DoD) and/or Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM).”
Trump said that he looks forward to visiting Pyongyang, and hosting Kim at the White House, “at the appropriate time.”
In response to numerous reporters’ questions about human rights, Trump said that he raised that issue in his discussions with Kim, albeit “relatively briefly compared to denuclearization.” Trump said the U.S. will continue to address the issue and seek an agreement on human rights.
Asked whether he would ever consider removing sanctions without significant improvement in the human-rights situation, the president replied, “No. I want significant improvement.”
Some observers have expressed concern that by granting this summit, Trump is ultimately giving Kim what he craves most – legitimacy on a grand stage. But Trump said, “I don’t view it that way. I’ll do whatever it takes to make the world a safer place … If I have to say I’m sitting on a stage with Chairman Kim and that’s going to get us to save 30 million lives … I’m willing to sit on the stage. I’m willing to travel to Singapore very proudly, very gladly.”
“If I can save millions of lives by coming here, sitting down, and establishing a relationship with someone who’s a very powerful man, who’s got firm control of a country, and that country has very powerful nuclear weapons, it’s my honor to do it.”
Trump said he believes that Kim “wants to” follow through on their agreement.
“There is no limit to what North Korea can achieve when it gives up its nuclear weapons and embraces commerce and engagement with the rest of the world,” said Trump. “Chairman Kim has before him an opportunity like no other: to be remembered as the leader who ushered in a glorious new era of security and prosperity for his people.”
“Anyone can make war, but only the most courageous can make peace.”