SINGAPORE (AP) — Claiming success, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left Singapore Tuesday, praising their face-to-face progress toward ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons. Yet Trump faced pointed questions at home about whether he got little and gave away much — including an agreement to halt U.S. military exercises with South Korea.
Meeting with staged ceremony on a Singapore island, Trump and Kim had come together for an unprecedented U.S.-North Korea meeting that seemed unthinkable months earlier when the two nations traded insults and nuclear threats.
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, applauded Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for their work, but he remained cautiously optimistic in a press statement issued after the summit.
“While time will tell what this summit will mean for U.S.-North Korea relations, we must not forget what brought us to this point," Kinzinger said in a press statement. "This Administration imposed heavy sanctions against North Korea and showed a credible military option. That pressure compelled the regime to reconsider, and led to a historic first meeting between the North Korean leader and the president of the United States."
Kinzinger said he would like Congress to be more involved in future relations.
“While I don’t believe we can ever trust a murderous dictator such as Kim Jong Un, I do believe this is a positive step towards a complete, verifiable, indefinite denuclearization of North Korea," he said. "We cannot concede any ground until we receive those assurances. And as we move forward, I encourage the president to work with Congress on the details and fine print before making any future deals with North Korea.”
Both leaders expressed optimism throughout roughly five hours of talks, with Trump thanking Kim afterward "for taking the first bold step toward a bright new future for his people." Kim, for his part, said the leaders had "decided to leave the past behind" and promised: "The world will see a major change."
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. Along the way, Trump tossed out pronouncements on U.S. alliances, human rights, and the nature of the accord he and Kim had signed.
Then he was off to Guam on the way back to the U.S.
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.
During his press conference, Trump acknowledged denuclearization won't happen overnight. But he contended, "Once you start the process it means it's pretty much over," an analysis that has proven faulty in the past despite inspection efforts.
Light on specifics, 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 include a striking concession by Trump, who told reporters he would freeze U.S. military "war games" with ally South Korea 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.
It was unclear whether South Korea was aware of Trump's decision before he announced it publicly. U.S. Forces Korea said in a statement Tuesday it was unaware of any policy change. Trump phoned South Korean President Moon Jae-in after leaving Singapore to brief him on the discussions.
Trump also said he'd obtained a separate concession from Kim to demolish a missile engine testing site, though it was just one site of many connected to the nuclear program.
Experts and allies struggled to account for what Trump and Kim had agreed to — and whether this agreement could actually be the first of its kind not to be broken by the North Koreans.
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.
Critics of the summit leapt at the leaders' handshake and the moonlight stroll Kim took Monday night along the glittering Singapore waterfront, saying it was evidence Trump was helping legitimize Kim on the world stage.
"It's a huge win for Kim Jong Un, who now — if nothing else — has the prestige and propaganda coup of meeting one on one with the president, while armed with a nuclear deterrent," said Michael Kovrig, a northeast Asia specialist at the International Crisis Group in Washington.
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 sanctions will remain in place until North Korea denuclearizes — and said they would increase if diplomatic discussions did not progress positively.