SINGAPORE ― After hours of closed-door discussions in a Singapore hotel on Tuesday, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un concluded their historic meeting with the signing of a joint agreement.
The document outlines four points the two leaders agreed upon, including a commitment by Kim to work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula and a pledge to “build a lasting and stable peace regime” in the region. The agreement doesn’t appear to contain any firm promises from Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapon program, but rather, opens the door to ongoing discussions.
Trump called it a “very important” and “comprehensive” document, adding that it would be discussed “at great length.”
“I think both sides are going to be very impressed with the result,” he said.
Kim hailed the day’s discussions as “historic.”
“Today we had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind,” the North Korean leader said. “We are about to sign a historic document. The world will see a major change.”
Trump appeared optimistic about the talks and said Kim was a “worthy negotiator” and talented man who “loves his country very much.” Before they parted ways, he promised that the pair would meet many times and, when asked if he’d extend an invitation for his North Korean counterpart to visit the White House, he said: “Absolutely I will.”
“We have developed a very special bond,” Trump said. “It worked out for both of us far better than anybody could’ve expected, far better than even anybody would’ve even predicted. This is going to lead to more and more and more, and it’s an honor to be with you.”
Kim left Capella Hotel just moments after the declaration was signed and ducked questions from reporters about whether he had spoken about giving up any of the North’s nuclear weapons. Trump himself was cagey at first, hinting to reporters that negotiations would be ongoing when it came to denuclearization.
“We’re starting that process very quickly. Very very quickly,” he said, without elaboration. He said he would speak to reporters later in the day.
The president also ignored a question asking if he had brought up the imprisonment and death of American student Otto Warmbier. The document signed by the two leaders also included no language about human rights protections.
This isn’t the first time Kim has promised to discuss denuclearization in vague terms. He pledged to do so following his meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April as part of the so-called “Panmunjom Declaration.”
However, disarmament experts have long said any deal with the North should contain firm commitments about what, exactly, “denuclearization” means and how the country would go about it. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo himself on Monday told reporters the “only outcome the United States will accept” was the “complete and verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
The terms “verifiable” and “irreversible” were not in the document that Kim and Trump signed.
Vipin Narang, a professor of international relations at MIT, said the language echoed statements made by North Korea 25 years ago in a similar joint declaration with the U.S. and appears to contain little more than what the North has already promised in the past. He did note, however, that Kim’s first handshake with Trump shows his nuclear weapons have officially given him legitimacy on the world stage.
“Get nukes and you are taken seriously and get to meet with the president of the United States,” Narang said in an email to HuffPost.
Other analysis also noted that despite how Trump may speak about the summit going forward (or any new chatter about a Nobel Peace Prize), the North hasn’t yet made a single promise to disarm.
“A summit is inherently asymmetric, because its very existence confers international recognition to the North Koreans,” Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear policy expert at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, wrote on Sunday. “Kim Jong Un is desperately looking for international recognition of North Korea as a country in good standing, of his right to rule it, and of the legitimacy of his possession of nuclear weapons. That’s why his motorcade had, not one, but two camera-mounted vehicles.”
He continued: “North Korean propaganda will be living off this summit for a long time.”
Still, North Korea experts have hailed the outcome as a positive one as it suggests a thaw in decades-long tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.
“It was not easy to get here,” Kim said before Tuesday’s talks began. “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.”
The highly anticipated summit kicked off a few minutes after 9 a.m. local time with the two world leaders meeting at the steps of Capella Hotel.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. President,” Kim was overheard telling Trump. It marked the first time in history that a North Korean leader was meeting with a sitting U.S. president.
“We’re going to have a great discussion,” Trump said shortly after the two shook hands. “It’s my honor, and we’re going to have a terrific relationship.”
The two leaders first met privately with interpreters, and then with members of their respective delegations. They then had a working lunch (prawn cocktail, Korean stuffed cucumber and beef ribs were on the menu) before taking a quick stroll through the hotel’s grounds.
“I think better than anybody could’ve expected,” Trump told reporters at the time, as Kim smiled beside him. “Top of the line, really good.”