Trump-Kim summit: First step on long road to peace

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump meeting at the Capella hotel on Sentosa yesterday, in a moment described as "historic" and "epochal" by the joint statement both leaders signed later on.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump meeting at the Capella hotel on Sentosa yesterday, in a moment described as "historic" and "epochal" by the joint statement both leaders signed later on.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un strolling through the grounds of the Capella hotel after their working lunch yesterday, before they signed the historic agreement.
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un strolling through the grounds of the Capella hotel after their working lunch yesterday, before they signed the historic agreement. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

• US and North Korea to establish new relations • Both will join efforts to build a lasting and stable peace on the Korean peninsula • North Korea commits to work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula • US and North Korea commit to recovering remains of prisoners of war

On Sentosa, an island named after peace, the United States and North Korea yesterday signed a deal that they said would defuse decades of hostility between the two countries.

Calling the meeting between their leaders "historic" and "epochal", the joint statement declared that North Korea was committed to complete denuclearisation of the peninsula, while the US would provide it with security guarantees.

 

The US will also suspend its war games with South Korea to soothe nerves in the North. It will reset ties with Pyongyang, and North Korea's leader will be invited to the White House at an appropriate time.

The build-up to the summit, and the pact it would produce, had been breathless. Thousands of media personnel had descended upon Singapore and people lined the streets early yesterday to catch a glimpse of the motorcades of US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they made their way from their downtown hotels to the venue.

Mr Trump further hyped hopes of a breakthrough when the two men took a stroll across the lawns of Capella hotel and he was asked about how the talks had gone.

"Better than anybody could have expected, top of the line, really good. We are going right now for a signing," he told reporters before the agreement was unveiled.

But the vague wording and lack of details left observers divided over the document's place in history.

Some - including several world leaders - said it was the first, meaningful step in a long journey that could eventually make the world a safer place.

Others were underwhelmed and said it left key issues unresolved, with neither a timetable for denuclearisation nor the insistence that it be verifiable and irreversible.

Mr Trump, who said he had not slept in 25 hours while the two camps negotiated, dismissed such scepticism.

"It is a great day in the history of the world," he told the media. Facing questions standing on his feet for more than an hour after Mr Kim's motorcade had driven off, he added: "Chairman Kim is leaving for North Korea and as soon as he is back, he is going to start a process to make people safe."

In the meantime, the sanctions that have crippled North Korea's economy would remain, he said.

Interspersing his answers with an acknowledgement of his own abilities and praise for the man he had negotiated with - for 45 minutes in person, two hours with their teams and then over a working lunch of prawn cocktail, Korean stuffed cucumber, beef short rib confit and sweet-and-sour pork - Mr Trump waved away the lack of details in the document.

He said North Korea's denuclearisation would still have to be complete, verifiable and irreversible - something that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said, a day earlier, was the minimum condition for a deal. "I wouldn't have signed any agreement if they did not agree to that."

Mr Trump said there had been no time to incorporate those clauses in the document. "I am only here for a day," he added.

Asked about a timeframe in which North Korea would dismantle its weapons, Mr Trump refused to pin down a date. "We will do it as fast as it can mechanically and physically be done," he said. "It could take a long time."

He also touched on details that did not find their way into the short, written agreement. He revealed that Mr Kim had promised to destroy a nuclear missile engine testing site.

"I got that after we signed the agreement. I said do me a favour. You have this missile engine testing site... I said can you close it up. He is going to close it up," said Mr Trump.

The US has decided to put on hold the war games it routinely conducts with South Korea - a development that took some observers by surprise.

"The military exercises that we conduct are tremendously expensive. Our bombers fly in all the way from Guam... It is a very provocative situation (for North Korea). We will also save a lot of money," he said.

The exercises that the US conducts with South Korea have been a sore point with the North, which says they threaten its security.


US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signing a joint declaration at the Capella Singapore yesterday while seated at a conference table that was once used by Singapore’s chief justices. The table is part of a suite of bespoke furniture designed in 1939 by local craftsmen for the former Supreme Court building that is now part of the National Gallery Singapore. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Yesterday, Mr Trump, who turns 72 tomorrow, was willing to see the point of view of the 34-year-old Chairman of North Korea's State Affairs Commission, whom he once dubbed "Rocket Man".

Saying that Mr Kim was committed to seeing his country become prosperous in return for giving up his nuclear arsenal, Mr Trump said: "He is very talented. They have never had a leader with the ability and confidence to get things done."

 
 
 

The endorsement came just seven hours after Mr Trump had first set eyes on Mr Kim.

The grounds of the Capella hotel were teeming with special agents - one American paired with one North Korean - when the two motorcades arrived in the morning. At 9.05am, the two leaders walked into the hotel courtyard from opposite sides of the colonnade and shook hands for exactly 12 seconds.

Mr Kim then spoke before a global audience for the first time beyond his backyard to say in Korean: "It wasn't easy to get here. We were held back by the past and blocked by old practices and prejudices. But we overcame all obstacles and here we are today."

The serious business of hammering out this agreement was conducted around a 79-year-old teak conference table once used by Singapore's chief justices which was even older than the Korean War between the two countries that broke out in 1950.

By 1.38pm, the document to cap the summit was ready for signing, Before that, a North Korean official wearing gloves appeared to clean and inspect the pen on Mr Kim's side of the table.

Mr Kim declared the agreement as a new beginning, saying the "world will see a major change".

Mr Trump said later that he had known immediately upon meeting Mr Kim that he was willing to make a deal. "My whole life has been about making deals, and I am great at it," he said.

Congratulating both men on their joint statement, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote to them, saying: "It is a crucial first move in the long journey towards lasting peace and stability on the Korean peninsula."

Later, last evening, Mr Trump and Mr Kim boarded planes to their own countries for the next step on the long, sometimes rocky, road to peace.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2018, with the headline 'First step on long road to peace'. Print Edition | Subscribe