Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Monday that the “complete and verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the only outcome that the United States will accept” from Pyongyang.
Tuesday’s agreement included a commitment by Kim to work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula, but the terms “verifiable” and “irreversible” were conspicuously absent from the document. It failed to explicitly define the scope of denuclearization, and didn’t outline how North Korea might go about achieving it.
Speaking to reporters a few hours after the signing ceremony, Trump said the two world leaders had agreed to engage in “vigorous negotiations to implement the agreement as soon as possible,” though he provided no timetable for future talks.
When pressed to explain what exactly “complete denuclearization” means, Trump said only that the process would be done as “fast as can be done scientifically [and] mechanically.”
Mintaro Oba, a former State Department expert on the Koreas, characterized the summit agreement as a “warm and fuzzy pile of generalities and old news.”
“The statement contained positions that are already well-established (like North Korean commitment to denuclearization ‘of the Korean Peninsula,’ and desire to work toward a ‘peace regime’ on the peninsula),” Oba told HuffPost in an email, referring to similar promises made by Kim in April during his landmark meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Vipin Narang, an MIT professor of international relations, noted that the language in Tuesday’s agreement bears striking similarities to a U.S.-North Korea declaration from 1993. “Remember when they remade the movie Karate Kid 25 years later? That’s what this is,” Narang wrote on Twitter.
Oba said the outcome was, however, “largely expected given the complexity of these issues and the seriousness of North Korea’s interest in maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent.” He added that he would be keenly interested in whether follow-up talks led by Pompeo will lead to “sustainable, longer-term diplomatic” ties between the two nations.
Pompeo said on Monday that the United States had been “fooled before” by Pyongyang.
“Many presidents previously have signed off on pieces of paper, only to find that the North Koreans either didn’t promise what we thought they had or actually reneged on their promises,” he said.
“The ‘V’ matters,” Pompeo continued, referring to verification. “We are going to ensure that we set up a system sufficiently robust that we’re able to verify these outcomes.”
Asked at Tuesday’s press conference about the “V” word, Trump insisted that North Korea’s denuclearization efforts “will be verified.”
When quizzed on how that would be accomplished, however, Trump replied that it would be “achieved by having a lot of people there ... combinations of both” American officials and international representatives.
The president added that some things had been agreed to after the deal was signed because there hadn’t been “enough time” during the summit. He said, for instance, that Kim had promised to destroy a “major” missile testing site. He did not elaborate.
Satellite imagery published last week by 38 North, a website devoted to North Korea analysis, indicating that the country had razed a “key missile test stand.” It’s unclear if this is what Trump was referring to.
Trump said the U.S. had agreed to stop playing “war games” with Pyongyang, referring to the joint military exercises with South Korea that Kim has condemned in the past. He added that he wants to “bring our soldiers back home” from South Korea, but said troop withdrawal was “not part of the equation right now.”
Some commentators skewered the president for what they called a “vague” agreement.
Some also pointed out that three of the four points outlined in the memorandum echoed Kim’s agenda for the meeting, as outlined by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency prior to the summit.
“North Korea’s goal was to give up as little as possible, whereas the U.S. goal was to get as much as possible,” Oba said. “North Korea had a lower bar for success and that gave them the upper hand, something which is reflected in a statement that largely stays true to North Korea’s existing positions.”
He added: “North Korea also had the upper hand because of the time pressure and President Trump’s strong desire to look good coming out of the summit.”
Still, North Korea experts hailed the outcome as positive, saying it suggests a thaw in decades-long tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.
Trump acknowledged that the summit was just the beginning of a potentially long and challenging process. “If you don’t get the ball over the goal line, it doesn’t mean enough,” he said at the press conference.