Summit over, Trump upbeat; pact signed on denuking, ‘protections’

Posted: June 13, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up the document that he and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un just signed at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in Singapore. The most tangible outcome of the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seems to be a commitment to recover the remains of U.S. military personnel missing in action and presumed dead from the Korean War. In a joint statement signed by the leaders Tuesday, the countries committed to the recovery of the remains and the immediate repatriation of those already identified. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

SINGAPORE -- President Donald Trump wrapped up his five-hour summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with warm words and hope for "a bright new future" for Kim's isolated, impoverished nation.

Yet he immediately faced questions at home about whether he got little and gave away much in his push to make a deal with the autocrat -- including an agreement to halt U.S. military exercises with South Korea.

He also faced a report from North Korea's official media that he and Kim had the "shared recognition" that the process would be "step-by-step and simultaneous action," language not in the leaders' statement.

Meeting on a Singapore island, Trump and Kim signed a joint statement Tuesday agreeing to work toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, although the timeline and tactics were left unclear. Trump later promised to end "war games" with ally South Korea, a concession to Kim that appeared to catch the Pentagon and Seoul government off guard and sowed confusion among Trump's Republican supporters in Washington.

Soon, Kim was on a plane headed home, while Trump held forth for more than an hour before the press on what he styled as a historic achievement to avert the prospect of nuclear war. Before leaving Singapore, Trump spoke about U.S. alliances, human rights and the nature of the accord that he and Kim had signed.

Tweeting from Air Force One, which had landed in Hawaii late Tuesday to refuel on the trip back from Singapore, Trump thanked Kim for "taking the first bold step toward a bright new future for his people," saying their summit "proves that real change is possible!"

He added: "There is no limit to what NoKo can achieve when it gives up its nuclear weapons and embraces commerce & engagement w/ the world."

The details of how and when the North would denuclearize appear yet to be determined, as are the nature of the unspecified "protections" Trump is pledging to Kim and his government.

As Trump acknowledged that denuclearization would not be accomplished overnight, the North suggested today that Trump had moved away from his demand for complete denuclearization before U.S. sanctions on the long-isolated country are removed.

The reported agreement had not been confirmed by the United States. If it is, it could be considered a concession by Trump because U.S. officials had called for the North to take swift disarmament measures before getting major outside concessions and benefits.

The Singapore accord largely amounts to an agreement to continue discussions, echoing previous public statements and commitments. It does not, for instance, include an agreement to take steps toward ending the technical state of warfare between the U.S. and North Korea.

Nor does it detail plans for North Korea to demolish a missile engine testing site, a concession Trump said he'd won, or Trump's promise to end military exercises in the South while negotiations between the U.S. and the North continue.

Trump cast that decision as a cost-saving measure but also called the exercises "inappropriate" while talks continue. North Korea has long objected to the drills as a security threat.

He also acknowledged, after previously brushing off questions about whether he had spoken directly to Kim, that the summit in Singapore was not the first occasion the two had talked.

Trump said he and Kim had previously spoken by phone, and he wondered out loud whether notes of the conversation existed.

"Mike, do they have a transcript?" Trump said, addressing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

[NUCLEAR NORTH KOREA: Maps, data on country’s nuclear program]

In their joint statement, the two leaders promised to "build a lasting and stable peace regime" on the Korean Peninsula. Trump has dangled the prospect of economic investment in the North as a sweetener for giving up its nuclear weapons. The longtime property developer-turned-politician later mused about the potential value of condos on the country's beachfront real estate.

The formal document-signing, which also included an agreement to work to repatriate remains of prisoners of war and those missing in action from the Korean War, followed a series of meetings at a luxury Singapore resort.

North Korea is believed to possess more than 50 nuclear warheads, with its atomic program spread across more than 100 sites constructed over decades to evade international inspections. Trump insisted that strong verification of denuclearization would be included in a final agreement, saying it was a detail his team would begin sorting out with the North Koreans next week.

The agreement's language on North Korea's nuclear program was similar to what the leaders of North and South Korea came up with at their own summit in April. Trump and Kim referred back to the so-called Panmunjom Declaration, which contained a weak commitment to denuclearization but no specifics on how to achieve it.

The North has faced crippling diplomatic and economic sanctions for years as it has advanced development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Pompeo held firm to Trump's position that sanctions will remain in place until North Korea denuclearizes -- and said they would even increase if diplomatic discussions did not progress positively.

China, however, suggested Tuesday that the U.N. Security Council consider suspending or lifting sanctions against North Korea if the country is in compliance with U.N. resolutions and making progress in diplomatic negotiations.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the Security Council's sanctions against North Korea were designed to be adjusted and could be suspended or lifted in accordance with the North's actions.

The Security Council could consider loosening or lifting sanctions on North Korea "in accordance with the compliance of the [North Korean] side and the development of the situation," Geng said at a daily briefing in Beijing.

"Sanctions are not an end," he said. "We believe the Security Council should make efforts to support the diplomatic efforts at the present time."

Trump ruled out immediate sanctions relief for North Korea after his meeting with Kim, saying it would come "when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor."

TRAINING EXERCISES

It was unclear whether South Korea was aware of Trump's decision on the military exercises before he announced it publicly. Trump phoned South Korean President Moon Jae-in after leaving Singapore to brief him on the discussions. Pompeo flew to Seoul today for follow-up meetings.

The U.S. has stationed combat troops in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s and has used them in a variety of drills. The next scheduled major exercise, involving tens of thousands of troops, normally is held in August.

Hours after Trump's announcement in Singapore, U.S. troops in Seoul said they are still moving ahead with a military exercise this fall -- Ulchi Freedom Guardian -- until they receive guidance otherwise from the chain of command.

Lt. Col. Jennifer Lovett, a U.S. military spokesman in South Korea, said in an email that the U.S. command there "has received no updated guidance on execution or cessation of training exercises -- to include this fall's schedule Ulchi Freedom Guardian."

The Pentagon said Tuesday that it was consulting with the White House and others, but it was silent on whether the August exercise would proceed. Defense Secretary James Mattis' chief spokesman, Dana White, told reporters that Mattis was "in full alignment" with Trump.

In Seoul, Moon hailed Trump's summit meeting with Kim. Moon called the joint statement that was released after the meeting "a historic event that has helped break down the last remaining Cold War legacy on earth."

But Trump's promise to end joint military exercises with Seoul left many South Koreans stunned. The annual exercises have been an integral part of the alliance, forming the bulwark of South Korea's defense against North Korea and Seoul's sense of security among bigger powers in the region.

At his news conference in Singapore, Trump focused on the potential cost savings of ending major exercises, which he said were "tremendously expensive" to conduct.

Kathleen Hicks, another former senior Pentagon official in President Barack Obama's administration, said that Trump's cost argument was misleading since any savings would likely decrease combat readiness.

"It is true that if you don't choose to ready your force, you can cut costs," she said Tuesday. "But the administration should be acknowledging that it is in fact a readiness decrement."

Trump's announcement raised fears in the South Korean capital that Washington was making concessions too fast, before North Korea has dismantled its nuclear weapons.

The South Korean Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that it was trying to figure out Trump's intentions.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who speaks to Trump regularly, played down the impact of halting any exercises. But he strongly cautioned against another proposal Trump has been weighing: reducing the 28,500 U.S. troops now stationed on the Korean Peninsula.

"I don't think canceling a war game is going to matter over the arc of time," Graham said on NBC's Today program.

"The one thing that I would violently disagree with is removing our troops," he said. "That doesn't make the world more peaceful, it makes it more dangerous."

REACTION IN D.C.

Other lawmakers were looking for details. Republicans emerged from a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence saying they want more information on which exercises were on hold. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said Pence told them that small-scale exercises would continue, but "war games will not." Pence's spokesman later denied that comment.

"There will be certain exercises that will continue," Gardner said, adding that he hoped "there's further clarification what that means."

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the meeting a "major first step" in U.S.-North Korea relations, but not a decisive one if North Korea does not follow through.

"The next steps in negotiations will test whether we can get to a verifiable deal," McConnell said on the Senate floor. He added, "We and our allies must be prepared to restore the policy of maximum pressure."

House Speaker Paul Ryan echoed that. "There is only one acceptable final outcome: complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization."

"Some get all up in arms, and say, 'He's too quick to have a meeting,'" Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said. "I don't think he's given away anything. Look, they've stopped testing, they've released hostages. We'll have to see what happens, but I'm optimistic."

Democrats were openly skeptical, saying Trump had already given up some American leverage by committing to halting U.S. military exercises.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., outlined a five-point plan he wanted to see as talks progress, including dismantling the North Korean nuclear weapons program, ending production of fuels and complete weapons inspections.

Schumer said there was a long, long way to go beyond the "little statement" produced by the two leaders.

"While we're relieved that they're no longer calling each other names, we are worried that these kinds of things, which are needed for America's safety, are not happening," Schumer said.

Sen. Chris Coons, the Delaware Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said a summit like this, on a whim and without proper preparation, wasn't really diplomacy, but entertainment.

"We gave more than we got," Coons said. "This is a handshake, reality TV, photo-op summit."

Still, lawmakers of both parties said they preferred diplomacy to the battle-by-tweet last year in which Trump and Kim seemed to threaten nuclear war. But they questioned what, exactly, happened at their face-to-face meeting.

"It is difficult to determine what of concrete nature has occurred," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

At least one Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took a critical stance.

"While I know potus is trying to butter him up to get a good deal, #KJU is NOT a talented guy," Rubio tweeted, using the shorthand for the president and for the North Korean leader.

Information for this article was contributed by Zeke Miller, Catherine Lucey, Josh Lederman, Foster Klug, Darlene Superville, Ken Thomas, Jill Colvin, Laurie Kellman, Lisa Mascaro and staff members of The Associated Press; by Eric Schmitt of The New York Times; by Victoria Kim, Noah Bierman and Matt Stiles of Tribune News Service; and by John Wagner of The Washington Post.

A Section on 06/13/2018

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump leave the room Tuesday after signing a joint statement agreeing to work toward a denucleari...