US agrees to alter 1953 armistice if North gives up nuclear weapons

The gravestones of South Korean soldiers killed in the 1950-1953 Korean War at the National Cemetery in Seoul. The US promise to alter the armistice raises questions as it is not something it could do on its own.
The gravestones of South Korean soldiers killed in the 1950-1953 Korean War at the National Cemetery in Seoul. The US promise to alter the armistice raises questions as it is not something it could do on its own. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has agreed to "alter" the 1953 armistice halting the fighting in the Korean War if North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said, revealing an apparent promise from Mr Trump's summit with Mr Kim Jong Un that was not announced at the time.

"He has made very clear his commitment to fully denuclearise his country," Mr Pompeo said of the North Korean leader during a speech at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday.

"In return for that, the President has committed to making sure that we alter the armistice agreement, provide the security assurances that Chairman Kim needs, " he said.

"And if we can get those two done in a way that matches, we will have reduced a global threat that has bedevilled the United States and the world for decades."

Before the June 12 summit, Mr Trump raised the possibility that a formal peace treaty ending the Korean War of 1950-1953 could be one outcome of his meeting with Mr Kim.

But the joint statement the pair signed made no such promise.

Instead, it said only that the United States and North Korea would "join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula".

A promise to alter the armistice raises questions because it is not something the US could do on its own: Any formal treaty would probably need a sign-off from other nations, including China, and need ratification from the United Nations Security Council.

When asked after delivering his speech if there would need to be a second summit involving Mr Kim and Mr Trump, Mr Pompeo said it was "hard to know".

"There is a lot of work between here and there. My team is already doing it. I will likely travel back before too terribly long," he said.

"We still have to flesh out all the things that underlay the commitments that were made that day in Singapore."

Mr Pompeo said last week that he would take the lead role in driving the North Korea negotiation process forward, and he anticipated that the two sides would resume engagement "some time in the next week or so". He said Washington hoped to achieve "major disarmament" by North Korea within the next 21/2 years, within Mr Trump's current presidential term, which ends on Jan 20, 2021.

Mr Trump hinted to reporters after the Singapore summit that the two sides had come to several agreements that were not mentioned in the joint declaration.

"What we signed today was a lot of things included," Mr Trump said.

"And then you have things that weren't included that we got after the deal was signed. I have done that before in my life. And we didn't put it in the agreement because we didn't have time."

US and South Korean officials confirmed yesterday the suspension of a joint military exercise scheduled to take place in August code-named "Ulchi Freedom Guardian", in line with Mr Trump's surprise promise on June 12 to halt what he called "war games" with South Korea.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2018, with the headline 'US agrees to alter 1953 armistice if North gives up nuclear weapons'. Print Edition | Subscribe