Donald Trump declared that North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat as he arrived back in the US after his historic summit with the country’s leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
“There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” the US president tweeted after Air Force One landed in Washington on Wednesday. “President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer — sleep well tonight!”
Mr Trump made his claim even as critics attacked the joint statement that the president signed with Mr Kim. While some experts welcomed the fact that the potential for military conflict had decreased, most argued that Mr Trump had failed to secure any concrete steps towards denuclearisation from his landmark meeting with Mr Kim.
“There is no indication right now that we are winning,” said Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA North Korea expert now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Trump wants to ‘win, win, win’ but North Korea is doing quite well.”
There were signs that the US and North Korea were further apart than Mr Trump claimed. Earlier on Wednesday, Pyongyang said the president had agreed to ease sanctions on North Korea in language that did not match what Mr Trump said at his post-summit press conference in Singapore on Tuesday.
North Korean state media said the US would “lift sanctions . . . along with advance in improving the mutual relationship through dialogue and negotiation”. On Tuesday, Mr Trump said sanctions would stay until “we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor”.
The US has stressed that they would remain until North Korea undertook “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation”. But Mr Trump drew fire on Tuesday when his joint statement with Mr Kim included no mention of CVID.
Asked on Wednesday whether North Korea’s account of the summit was accurate, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state who took part in the Singapore meetings, said: “I'm going to leave the content of our discussions between the two parties, but one should heavily discount some things that are written in other places.”
Mr Pompeo also dismissed suggestions that the lack of language about CVID meant that the US was taking a softer line. “A lot has been made of that fact that the word ‘verifiable’ didn’t appear in the agreement. Let me assure you that ‘complete’ encompasses verifiable in the minds of everyone concerned,” Mr Pompeo said.
Underscoring how Pyongyang was selling the summit as the dawn of a new era, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, a state-run media outlet, ran the front-page headline, “Meeting of the Century Pioneers a New History in DPRK — US Relations”, over photos of the meeting.
In another sign that Washington and Pyongyang were less in sync than Mr Trump had suggested, KCNA, North Korea’s state media agency, said the two leaders had agreed to a step-by-step process.
“Kim Jong Un and Trump had the shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” it said.
While that approach has been endorsed by China, the US has said it was unacceptable since it would allow North Korea to drag out negotiations and increase the odds that Pyongyang would repeat history by reneging on any deal.
KCNA also emphasised Mr Trump’s announcement that he would halt joint military exercises with South Korea that the US president said were a “provocation”, as he offered a big concession that was criticised at home.
That move sparked concern in Tokyo, where Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe had feared that Mr Trump would be outplayed by Mr Kim because of his desire to secure a deal before US midterm elections in November.
- Asian leaders signal greater engagement with North Korea
Itsunori Onodera, Japan’s defence minister, said military exercises “play an important role” in guaranteeing security. “We’d like a shared understanding between the US, Japan and South Korea on this,” he said about the move, which surprised Seoul and Tokyo.
Dennis Wilder, an Asia expert at Georgetown University, said the summit was not as bad as many experts were arguing, because “Mr Trump didn’t give away the store”. But he said the US and North Korea needed to produce some concrete developments to show that the deal was genuine. “You cannot do multiple meetings where the outcomes are so general and unspecific. Somebody has got to start a negotiating process,” Mr Wilder said.
While the Trump administration has couched the summit as a step towards forcing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons — thereby cutting the chances of a military strike — KCNA said North Korea appeared to put the onus on Washington.
“Kim Jong Un clarified the stand that if the US side takes genuine measures for building trust in order to improve the DPRK-US relationship, the DPRK, too, can continue to take additional goodwill measures of next stage commensurate with them,” it said, using the initials of the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
KCNA also said the two leaders had invited each other to their respective capitals and that both of them “gladly accepted” the invitations.
Additional reporting by Katrina Manson in Washington