Many South Koreans had a great deal of hope for the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore because they believed that the historic meeting could resolve the nuclear threat which had loomed over their heads over the last 25 years. U.S. President Donald Trump had been full of promises. "We will do it as fast as it can mechanically and physically be done," he said about the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons. Even a day before the summit, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the goal was the "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement" of North Korea's nuclear weapons.
The agreement signed by Trump and Kim therefore came as a shock, which only got worse as Trump rambled on during the ensuing press conference. The sole goal of this summit was the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons, and the key gauge would have been a commitment to doing it "completely, verifiably and irreversibly" and a date to do it by -- for example 2020, when Trump's term ends.
Instead, the agreement merely reaffirmed the terms of a joint declaration by Kim and President Moon Jae-in after their summit in April, and only holds Kim to working "towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," which could mean anything. In short, it represents no progress and achieves nothing. Already, when faced with criticism over the vagueness of the inter-Korean declaration, Cheong Wa Dae officials said specific agreements would be made between the U.S. and North Korea. That is what the public believed, and that is why they have been let down. Over the last few months, Trump has made increasingly bombastic vows to scrap North Korea's nuclear weapons as soon as possible, but now there is no deadline to be found anywhere, and instead Trump is talking about real estate development on North Korea's coast.
Worse, the denuclearization pledge was listed third on a list of four bullet points, behind promises to improve U.S.-North Korea relations and establish a peace framework on the Korean peninsula.
The joint statement that was produced by six-party talks on Sept. 19, 2005 states that all of the participants in the negotiations unanimously agreed to the goal of complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea pledged to rejoin the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and abide by International Atomic Energy Agency rules. But the latest U.S.-North Korean agreement did not even match the toothless terms of 13 years ago, which North Korea at any rate reneged on at the earliest opportunity.
Trump's comments during the press conference made things worse. He pledged to end joint military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, and said he wants to pull U.S. troops out of South Korea altogether. When the U.S. and South Korea announced the resumption of joint military drills back in 1993 after North Korea refused to let international inspectors enter, the North vowed to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire." This shows that the drills are an effective means of pressuring the North. But Trump gave North Korea a major gift even before it has taken any steps toward complete denuclearization. And in the joint agreement, it is Trump rather than the U.S. which is the party guaranteeing North Korea's regime safety. This is diplomacy for the kindergarten.
Trump also claimed that North Korea promised to shut down a ballistic missile testing sites soon, which is at best another gesture like blowing up its nuclear test site in Punggye-ri. It seems that the U.S. will be content if North Korea halts tests and will then stop the military drills. The North will only have to hide its nuclear weapons.
This is the worst outcome for South Korea. It has long been the strategy of the Kim dynasty to sit down for one-on-one talks with the U.S. and bypass South Korea. Whatever one may think of him, the young North Korean leader has made an incredible achievement simply by getting Trump to meet him. Everyone expected him to make major concessions to accomplish it, but no -- a closer look at the joint agreement shows it was Kim who ended up taking home the prize. It is simply unbelievable that Trump flew all the way to Singapore to end up with the short end of the stick.
It is true that follow-up meetings are expected between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and high-level North Korean officials. Pompeo met Kim twice before the summit, and working-level talks were held by both sides until the eve of the summit to iron out last-minute details. But once the summit agreement was announced, what more could be achieved in follow-up talks by lower-ranking officials? At this rate, the U.S. is on the road to accepting North Korea as nuclear-armed state. That is what happened with India and Pakistan, and it can happen again. Trump said he would continue to meet Kim in Pyongyang and Washington, but those talks are highly likely to focus on arms reduction, not disarmament, which is exactly what Kim wanted.
"Leaving the dark days of war and conflict behind, we will write a new chapter for peace and cooperation," Moon said in an ecstatic review of the U.S.-North Korea summit. What that chapter is will soon become apparent. What remains are the sanctions against North Korea. Kim will try desperately to weaken them, and judging by the summit results, he is more than capable of doing that. Moon has already enthusiastically endorsed the vapor emerging from Singapore. The public must keep a sharp eye on upcoming developments.