N. Korea claims concessions after summit with US
SINGAPORE — North Korea and the United States celebrated their historic summit on Wednesday despite criticism that President Donald Trump gave up too much, too soon, including war games with South Korea.
Trump declared that the nuclear threat from the North is over, a day after his landmark meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
“Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea,” Trump tweeted.
He noted that his predecessor Barack Obama had warned him that the North was the most dangerous problem facing the United States. “No longer — sleep well tonight!” he said.
The bold claim underscored the significance placed by the president on his burgeoning personal relationship with the young North Korean leader despite decades of false starts in the effort to get the communist state to abandon its nuclear weapons.
The two men were all smiles and handshakes as they met at a hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa Island in the first-ever summit between a North Korean leader and a sitting U.S. president.
Photos of them standing side-by-side were splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the world, including North Korea. It was a stunning sight after they spent most of last year trading personal insults and threats of nuclear war.
The summit statement contained a commitment to the denuclearization of the divided peninsula, which the North had already agreed to, but few details about how to achieve that.
“While no one exchanged insults or angry tweets … there was very little to point to in terms of substantive or concrete progress coming out of the summit,” Paul Haenle, the director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, said in a commentary.
Trump is gambling that his administration has set the stage for future negotiations to persuade the young leader to agree to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of the North’s nuclear program.
Claiming concessionsIn an ominous sign, North Korea’s state-run media reported that Kim had won several concessions from Trump as photos of the two formerly bitter rivals were splashed across front pages in Pyongyang.
The Korean Central News Agency cast Trump’s decision to suspend joint military exercises with the South as a move to end “hostile and military” actions against each other to achieve peace and stability on the peninsula “and realize its denuclearization.”
It also claimed the president had agreed to lift economic sanctions and “abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action” in the peace process.
Trump told reporters after the summit Tuesday that punishing sanctions against the North would remain in effect until denuclearization is achieved.
But he did announce plans to suspend military exercises, which he called “very provocative.”
“We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should,” he said.
The annual joint military exercises have long been a flashpoint for tensions with the North, which considers them a rehearsal for an invasion.
U.S. military commanders insist the drills are defensive in nature and necessary for readiness.
Kim told the president “it is urgent” to make a “bold decision on halting irritating and hostile military actions against each other,” according to KCNA.
“Expressing his understanding of it, Trump expressed his intention to halt joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises … over a period of good-will dialogue between [North Korea] and the U.S.,” it said.
Many in the international community welcomed the steps toward peace that have tamped down tensions in recent months.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it “an important milestone” but cautioned “the road ahead requires cooperation, compromise and a common cause."
South Korea signaled that it will support Trump’s surprise decision to suspend joint military exercises, which the allies have long insisted are crucial to their defensive posture.
But Seoul also said it was still trying to understand “the exact meaning and intention” of Trump’s remarks.
"We believe there is a need to consider various ways to further promote dialogue as long as serious discussions are being held between the United States and North Korea for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and establishment of peace," presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters.
The test will come in August, when the next major exercises known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian are scheduled to be held.
Catherine Killough, a North Korean analyst at the Ploughshares Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based global security foundation, dismissed anxieties about the decision.
She noted that military exercises were canceled in the early 1990s during previous talks with the North.
“U.S.-(South Korean) military exercises have historically been used as both a carrot and stick during negotiations with North Korea,” she said in an email. “It’s worth exploring our options to adjust military exercises in order to meet not only security, but also diplomatic goals.”
Nervous alliesMeanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also arrived in Seoul, where he planned to brief U.S. allies South Korea and Japan on the summit outcome.
Japan, which has 50,000 U.S. servicemembers stationed on its territory, expressed concern.
"The U.S.-South Korean exercises and U.S. forces in South Korea play significant roles for the security of East Asia," Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera was quoted as saying by the Kyodo news agency.
Lucas Tomlinson, a Pentagon reporter for Fox News, tweeted Tuesday that U.S. officials told him that joint military training with the United States will continue in Japan and that nuclear-capable B-52 training flights will still fly out of Andersen Air Force Base on Guam.
Japan hosts about twice the number of U.S. troops as South Korea, and about 60 U.S. ships are forward deployed in the nation.
South Korean troops also train side-by-side with Americans in the region’s two largest exercises, the annual Cobra Gold in Thailand and biennial Rim of the Pacific naval drills that are to begin later this summer in Hawaii.
Stars and Stripes reporter Wyatt Olson contributed to this report.