Updated at 4:55 a.m. ET Tuesday
Following a historic summit in Singapore on Tuesday, President Trump and Kim Jong Un signed a broad agreement with the U.S. committing to a “new” diplomatic relationship with Pyongyang in exchange for leader Kim Jong Un’s reaffirmation of his “firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
In the joint statement signed between the two leaders agreed that their countries would also “join efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula,” and commit to recovering POW/MIA remains from the Korean War, from 1950-1953.
Speaking at a news conference after the summit, the president said he had agreed to halt “inappropriate” military exercises with South Korea — a key sticking point with the North.
Asked about the death of U.S. student Otto Warmbier — who was released last year after being held for more than a year by North Korea, but died soon after his return to the U.S. — Trump said without him the meeting with Kim would not have taken place. “Otto did not die in vain,” he said.
On denuclearization, Trump told reporters that once the process is started, “it’s pretty much over.”
However, when it comes to the key obstacle in relations — denuclearization, it wasn’t immediately clear whether the agreement signed on Tuesday went much beyond diplomatic platitudes or the half-dozen previous agreements North Korea has signed in the past. Nor is it clear the two sides have a common definition of exactly what “denuclearization” entails.
But a flurry of diplomacy with regional allies is expected to begin now to work that out. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to Seoul tomorrow to meet with his counterparts from South Korea and Japan.
ZOOM IN ON THE TEXT: “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” pic.twitter.com/vXBeIMP81i
— Conor Finnegan (@cjf39) June 12, 2018
At the signing ceremony, which followed a day of meetings at the Capella hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa Island, Trump said denuclearization of the Korean peninsula would come “very, very soon” and Kim announced that “the world will see a major change.”
But details — apart from what could be seen in photographs of the document that Trump held up for cameras — were not immediately available.
“We’re very proud of what took place today,” Trump said. “We both want to do something, we both are going to do something, and we’ve developed a very special bond.”
“People are going to be very impressed, people are going to be very happy and we’re going to deal with a very big and dangerous problem for the world,” the president said as the two signed documents, the details of which were not immediately made public.
“It worked out for both of us better than any of us could have expected. This is going to lead to more and more and more. It’s an honor to be with you, it’s a great honor,” he said to Kim.
Kim thanked Trump for making the summit possible. Asked whether he would invite Kim to the White House, Trump said, “Absolutely, I will.”
Regional players including South Korea and China have already weighed in to praise the agreement as a triumph for peace.
“We expect today’s North Korea-US summit, which follows the two inter-Korean summits, to become a historic milestone toward complete denuclearization and permanent establishment of peace on the Korean peninsula,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
The day started with a handshake, setting in motion the first-ever meeting between a sitting U.S. president and North Korean head of state. Both leaders have committed to “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but it’s unclear what specific steps North Korea is willing to take to get there.
The two entered the staging area from opposite sides. With U.S. and North Korean flags as a backdrop, they shook hands for about 10 seconds and, exchanged greetings and faced the camera for photos.
Following the historic handshake, the president said, “I feel really great.”
“We’re going to have a great discussion and, I think, tremendous success,” Trump said. “It will be tremendously successful. And it’s my honor. And we will have a terrific terrific relationship, I have no doubt.”
“Well, it was not easy to get here,” Kim said, smiling. Through an interpreter, he said “old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles on our way forward. But we overcame all of them, and we are here today.”
After an approximately 38-minute one-on-one, with only the leaders and their interpreters, the two proceeded to the expanded bilateral meeting with advisers — National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chief of Staff John Kelly on one side and North Korea’s Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and former Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong on the other.
Remarks made by Bolton last month nearly derailed the summit altogether. He said that North Korea could follow the “Libya model” to denuclearization — an implication that suggested violent regime change.
Following the bilateral, the delegations sat down to a lunch of beef ribs and sweet & sour pork. “Getting a good picture everybody?” Trump asked photographers before the two sides took seats. “So we look nice and handsome and thin? Perfect,” he said.
Emerging from the working lunch, the president, with Kim beside him, told reporters that there had been “a lot of progress — really very positive. I think better than anyone could have expected. Top of the line, very good.”
Without elaboration, he then said that the two were “going for a signing.”
The stakes for the summit are high and a genuine breakthrough could rewrite the geopolitical script for the Korean peninsula. Officials — including the president — appeared optimistic, but also cautious about raising expectations of what could be accomplished at a first face-to-face between the two leaders.
Pompeo said Monday the goal remains the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a policy laid out under the George W. Bush administration and continued through the Obama administration to this point. In some instances, past deals struck by previous U.S. administrations with North Korea paused — but failed to roll back — North Korea’s program, which has only grown over the years.
“In light of how many flimsy agreements the United States has made in previous years, this president will ensure that no potential agreement will fail to ultimately address the North Korean threat,” Pompeo told reporters in Singapore on Monday.
North Korea signed onto a goal of “complete denuclearization” of the peninsula in an April 27 declaration with South Korea. Pyongyang has advocated for decades for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, rather than the armistice that has been in place for more than 60 years. North Korea also wants an end to what it considers America’s “hostile policy” and a security guarantee that the U.S. will not seek to remove the regime.
Under Kim Jong Un, the third-generation dictator of the country established in 1948, North Korea has rapidly advanced its nuclear capabilities. Four of the nation’s six nuclear tests have taken place since Kim took power in 2011. Last fall, despite numerous rounds of international sanctions, Pyongyang conducted its farthest-reaching test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which in theory could reach the United States mainland.
Following that test, North Korea declared its state nuclear program was complete. And on Jan. 1, Kim shifted his approach to the outside world: He went from flouting international rules and leaders to engaging in a flurry of diplomatic overtures.
In the past two months, he has met twice with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and twice with China’s leader Xi Jinping. He also hosted Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
In March, Trump accepted on the spot an invitation by Kim to meet in person, without preconditions, setting the stage for Tuesday’s historic event. Trump briefly called off the summit a few weeks ago before agreeing again to the meeting.
On the eve of the summit, Trump stayed in his hotel but Kim decided to take a sightseeing tour of Singapore’s hot spots, visiting botanical gardens at Gardens by the Bay and posing for a selfie before making a stop at Singapore’s iconic three-tower Marina Bay Sands hotel.
Se Eun Gong contributed to this report from Singapore.