• US vows to end military drills with South Korea
• Summit pleases China, Japan puts on brave face
Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un hailed their historic summit yesterday as a breakthrough in relations between Cold War foes, but the agreement they produced contained few details about the key issue of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.
The extraordinary and unprecedented encounter in Singapore saw the leader of the world’s most powerful democracy shake hands with the third generation scion of a dynastic dictatorship, standing as equals in front of their nations’ flags.
Trump rocked the region with the stunning announcement yesterday that he was halting annual US-South Korean military drills and wants to remove the 28,500 US troops stationed in the South as a deterrent against North Korea.
“I want to bring our soldiers back home,” Trump said, although he added that it’s “not part of the equation right now.” Then he said: “We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should. But we’ll be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus, I think it’s very provocative.”
Trump’s surprise, almost offhand comments, made during a news conference after his summit with Kim Jong Un, seemingly upended decades of the US defense posture on the Korean Peninsula. The remarks contradicted countless previous declarations by US political and military officials over the years that the drills are routine, defensive and absolutely critical.
Asked about denuclearisation, the crux of the summit Trump said “we’re starting that process” which would begin “very, very quickly”, but gave no concrete details. US sanctions would remain in place until Washington had seen progress, he added, before flying out of Singapore bound for the US territory of Guam towards which Pyongyang had last year threatened to lob missiles.
“We’ll meet again,” Trump said after the signing ceremony, standing with Kim on the verandah where they first met. “We will meet many times.” He “absolutely” would be willing to invite Kim to the White House, and would do so when the time was right, he added.
Trump has now essentially adopted the standard North Korean line, calling the military exercises a “provocative” drain of money and announcing they would stop while he continues talks with Kim, whom he repeatedly praised as a solid negotiating partner.
His statement was quickly portrayed by critics as a major, unreciprocated concession to a country that only last year was threatening Seoul and Washington with nuclear war.It also seemed to leave officials completely off guard in South Korea, where the presence of U.S. troops has long been described as necessary to maintaining peace on the peninsula. Seoul’s presidential office told The Associated Press that it was trying to parse Trump’s comments. The South Korean military seemed similarly surprised.
“At this current point, there is a need to discern the exact meaning and intent of President Trump’s comments,” Seoul’s Defense Ministry said, adding that there have been no discussions yet with Washington on modifying drills set for August.
China, North Korea’s most important economic and diplomatic supporter despite its anger at Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests, wasted little time with a reminder that U.N. sanctions could be adjusted if North Korea behaved itself.
“The U.N. Security Council resolutions that have been passed say that if North Korea respects and acts in accordance with the resolutions, then sanction measures can be adjusted, including to pause or remove the relevant sanctions,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said at a daily news briefing. The Global Times, an influential Chinese state-run newspaper, said in an editorial that the time was right to consider “an appropriate reduction of the sanctions”.
Trump’s comments will be questioned by many in South Korea and beyond, with some seeing in them an effort by North Korea to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington.
Kim agreed to the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”, a stock phrase favoured by Pyongyang that stopped short of long-standing US demands for North Korea to give up its atomic arsenal in a “verifiable” and “irreversible” way.
With Pyongyang having declared a moratorium on weapons testing on the grounds its development programmes were complete, the move looked like a tacit acceptance of the “freeze for freeze” proposal pushed by Beijing and previously decried by Washington.
The Singapore summit was a potentially legacy-defining meeting for both men comparable to president Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China, or Ronald Reagan’s 1986 summit with Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik.