- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2018

SINGAPORE — President Trump declared Tuesday that the U.S. and North Korea are ready for a new era of peace after securing a written pledge from dictator Kim Jong-un for “complete denuclearization” of the divided Korean Peninsula, saying the undisclosed fine print for dismantling Pyongyang’s weapons programs will ease concerns that Mr. Kim came away from their historic summit with the better end of the deal.

The publicly released text raised concerns that Mr. Trump had received only vague promises from Mr. Kim on his nuclear and missile programs, concerns that grew when Mr. Trump told reporters in Singapore after Mr. Kim left that he was freezing joint U.S.-South Korea military drills on the peninsula, a long-sought goal of North Korea. Mr. Trump called the “war games” an expensive provocation toward Pyongyang.

Emerging from nearly five hours of talks in the first meeting between a U.S. president and North Korea’s leader, Mr. Trump insisted that his four-point agreement with Mr. Kim was a great moment for the world.

“We are prepared to start a new history, and we are prepared to write a new chapter between our nations,” he told reporters at the summit site at a luxury hotel on a small island off the wealthy Asian city-state.

The reclusive Mr. Kim predicted, “The world will see a major change.”

The document signed by both leaders states that Mr. Trump has “committed to provide security guarantees” to North Korea, while Mr. Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The text did not include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s conditions that the North agree to a “complete, verified and irreversible” end to North Korea’s nuclear programs.

North Korea is estimated to have more than 50 nuclear warheads. Its weapons are distributed at more than 100 sites to evade detection. Mr. Trump asserted that strong verification of denuclearization will be included in a final agreement.

Mr. Pompeo will hold follow-up negotiations with his North Korean counterparts next week. He left Singapore to consult with officials in South Korea and China.

But whether Mr. Trump can maintain his policy of “maximum pressure” and sanctions on North Korea is in question. China and other countries say Mr. Kim’s diplomatic moves meant the isolation policy could be eased.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said sanctions relief could be considered for North Korea in light of the “comprehensive” document aimed at denuclearization, but Mr. Trump disagreed.

“The sanctions will come off when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor,” he said. “The sanctions right now remain. They’ll come off when we know we’re down the road and nothing is going to happen.”

The president said he expected the denuclearization process to start “very, very quickly” and that progress will be verified by “having a lot of people in North Korea.”

The agreement, the meeting and the warm rapport displayed by the two leaders after threatening each other with thermonuclear annihilation last year immediately eased international tensions and raised hopes for a permanent solution to communist North Korea’s decades of unchecked weapons development and its horrific record of human rights abuses.

China, by far the most important economic partner of North Korea, said Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim were “creating a new history” after more than a half-century of hostilities. While Seoul reportedly was surprised by Mr. Trump’s move to suspend joint military drills, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called the summit “a historic event that has helped break down the last remaining Cold War legacy on earth.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called the deal “an important step towards the stability of a region vital to global economic growth.” A senior official with the Union of Concerned Scientists, which advocates for a reduction of nuclear threats, said the summit “appears to have set the two countries on a path to trying to solve the biggest issues between them, which led to fears of war only months ago.”

But in Washington and in Seoul, the agreement’s lack of specificity and the president’s unilateral move to suspend joint military drills with South Korea were met with surprise and concern that Mr. Trump had given away a concrete advantage without securing equal concessions from the North.

Washington criticism

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the U.S. had gained “vague and unverifiable” concessions from North Korea.

“What North Korea has gained, however, is tangible and lasting,” Mr. Schumer said. “We’ve legitimized a brutal dictator who’s starved his own people.”

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who hasn’t ruled out a bid for president in two years, said Mr. Kim swindled Mr. Trump.

“Talking to dictators is one thing; embracing them is another,” Mr. Biden said. “So far, this is not a deal that advantages the United States or makes us safer.”

He said it was troubling that the president “has given the North Korean regime many sought-after wins upfront without getting anything in return.”

“North Korea gained the legitimacy of a meeting with the American president; the easing of the international economic and sanctions pressure, carefully built over the last two administrations; and the suspension of our military readiness exercises with South Korea — a decision apparently made without consulting our ally,” he said.

It wasn’t clear whether Seoul knew about Mr. Trump’s decision before he announced it. The South Korean Defense Ministry said it needed “to discern the exact meaning and intent of President Trump’s comments.” U.S. Forces Korea said it was unaware of any policy change.

Mr. Trump said freezing the war games will save U.S. taxpayers “a tremendous amount of money.”

“Plus, I think it’s very provocative,” the president said. “Under the circumstances that we are negotiating — a very comprehensive, complete deal — I think it’s inappropriate to be having war games.”

North Korea views the frequent war games as practice for an invasion.

The agreement also doesn’t take steps to formally end the Korean War, although Mr. Trump expressed hope in recent weeks that it would do so. The fighting ended in July 1953 with the signing of an armistice.

North Korea also objects to the presence of about 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea. The president said the military presence was not raised during his talks with Mr. Kim, although Mr. Trump wants to bring the troops home someday.

The president also defended the agreement with Mr. Kim by pointing to commitments from North Korea in writing, such as Pyongyang’s promise to return the remains of U.S. soldiers still missing in action from the Korean War, and other unwritten assurances, such as Mr. Kim’s pledge to destroy a missile engine test site. Mr. Trump also cited North Korea’s pre-summit gestures, including the release of three American detainees last month, its halt of all missile and nuclear tests, and its destruction last month of an underground nuclear test site.

‘A safer place’

He stressed that he trusted Mr. Kim to follow through on his commitments and said he believed Mr. Kim wanted a better future for the North Korean people. Insisting that Mr. Kim wouldn’t renege on agreements like his father and grandfather did, the president said the times and the Trump administration were different.

“This isn’t the past. This isn’t another administration that never got it started and therefore never got it done,” said Mr. Trump, basking in the summit’s apparent success. “I will do whatever it takes to make the world a safer place.”

The declaration was light on specifics for the security guarantee for North Korea and for the path to denuclearization.

Asked by ABC News’ George Stephanopolous what security guarantees the U.S. offered, the president replied, “I don’t want to talk about it specifically, but … he’s going to be happy.”

Mr. Trump said other details were not in writing, including that North Korea will “get rid of certain ballistic missile sites and various other things.”

“We’re going to put that out later,” he said. “They’ll be announcing things over the next few days talking about other missile sites because they were … sending out a lot of missiles.”

Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim plan to meet again, and the president said he was considering bringing Mr. Kim to the White House or visiting Pyongyang when the time was right.

The two men discussed human rights, although Mr. Trump said it was secondary to the issue of nuclear weapons. While some rights groups criticized the president for not pushing harder on the issue, Mr. Trump said the summit might not have taken place at all if not for the tragic case of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died under unexplained circumstances after being imprisoned on a theft charge in North Korea in 2016.

“I think without Otto, this would not have happened,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Warmbier, 22, died from brain injury in June 2017 shortly after North Korea released him in a coma. Asked Tuesday about North Korea’s human-rights abuses, Mr. Trump turned the discussion to Mr. Warmbier.

“Something happened from that day,” the president said. “It was a terrible thing. It was brutal. But a lot of people started to focus on what was going on, including North Korea. I really think that Otto is someone who did not die in vain. I told this to his parents. Special young man. And I have to say, special parents, special people. Otto did not die in vain. He had a lot to do with this.”

⦁ Dave Boyer reported from Washington.

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