US & World

At Summit, An Upbeat Trump Praises Kim's Commitment To Denuclearize

President Trump gives North Korea leader Kim Jong Un a thumbs up at their meeting at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore on Tuesday.
President Trump gives North Korea leader Kim Jong Un a thumbs up at their meeting at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore on Tuesday.
Evan Vucci/AP

Updated at 6:15 a.m. PT Tuesday

Following a historic summit in Singapore, President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a broad statement Tuesday that calls for a "firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."

While the brief statement touched on a range of topics, it was short on details. At a lengthy news conference after the summit, Trump was asked about North Korea's willingness to give up its nuclear weapons program.

"We're starting that process very quickly — very, very quickly," the president said, though he declined to give a timeline and acknowledged that it can take a long time to dismantle a nuclear program.

In a surprise announcement, Trump said the U.S. military would halt joint U.S. military exercises with South Korea, a practice that has long antagonized the North.

"We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money," Trump said. "Plus I think it is very provocative."

Trump's comments appeared to catch South Korea off-guard. A statement issued by the office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in said, "At this moment, we need to figure out President Trump's accurate meaning and intention."

The military exercises have been taking place annually since the 1970s and are a cornerstone of the U.S.-South Korea security relationship. However, they have been suspended or delayed occasionally, as they were during the Winter Olympics in South Korea earlier this year.v

Tweet

The Trump-Kim agreement said the U.S. and North Korea would "join efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula," and commit to recovering the remains of soldiers from the 1950-53 Korean War.

More than 7,000 U.S. troops from that war remain unaccounted for.

Trump was asked about the death of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier, who was released in a coma last year after being held for more than a year by North Korea, but died soon after his return to the U.S.

"I think without Otto this would not have happened," Trump said in reference to the summit, the first ever meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. "It was a terrible thing, it was brutal. But a lot of people started to focus on what was going on, including North Korea. I really think Otto is someone who did not die in vain."

On the most important issue — North Korea's nuclear program — it wasn't immediately clear whether Tuesday's statement went much beyond diplomatic platitudes or the multiple 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.

The joint statement did call for "follow-on negotiations" to be led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and top North Korean officials. Pompeo is heading to South Korea to meet counterparts there and from Japan.

"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.

"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.

The day started with a handshake, as the two leaders 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 handshake, the president said, "I feel really great."

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reaches to shake President Trump's hand at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore on Tuesday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reaches to shake President Trump's hand at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore on Tuesday.
Evan Vucci/AP

"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 meeting, with only the leaders and their interpreters, the two proceeded to an expanded bilateral meeting with advisers. The U.S. side included Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and and the president's Chief of Staff John Kelly. North Korea's team included Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and former Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit npr.org.