Trump meets Kim: what was achieved?

Kin Jong-un and Donald Trump © Getty images
Money talks: Trump’s offers may bring Kim to heel

Little of substance, say some. But Trump may be playing a longer and cannier game. Emily Hohler reports.

The document signed by Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un on Tuesday falls “some way short of the dramatic billing” it was given by the president at the end of the historic summit in Singapore, says Justin McCurry in The Guardian.

Trump described it as a “very comprehensive” agreement that would “take care of a very big and very dangerous problem for the world”. As it stands, however, it differs little from the agreement issued by Kim and South Korean president Moon Jae-in after their meeting in April, when the leaders committed themselves to achieving peace on the Korean peninsula.

Trump’s concessions

If anything, it is “even woollier”, says The Economist. There is “nothing” in the statement that is “specific enough to be enforceable”. The “hard work of turning rhetoric into substance will be left to others”. The US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is due to meet North Korean officials next week to start the process, but progress is hardly guaranteed.

Nevertheless, Kim will be “thrilled”. He has now “implicitly been recognised as an equal by a sitting American president”, an ambition both his father and grandfather failed to realise. Kim thinks “this will help legitimise his rule at home”. And at a press conference after the signing ceremony, Trump went even further, saying he would halt all joint military exercises with South Korea during talks – something Kim “wanted badly”.

Trump also said he expected a formal peace treaty between North and South Korea to be signed soon, and that he was keen eventually to remove the US troops stationed in South Korea, says Jamil Anderlini in the Financial Times. These concessions are “well beyond anything Kim could have imagined”. Although he did say that tough sanctions would not be lifted until real progress was made on denuclearisation, enforcement of those sanctions lies largely with China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner.

In terms of the agreement, the regime is merely committed to working “towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”. Kim did promise to return the remains of US soldiers killed or captured in the Korean war and destroy a missile-engine testing site. The president later complained that he had not had enough time to agree a more comprehensive “de-nuke”.

A more basic game?

Had any previous US president come away from such an event, in which “so much was given away with so little to show for it, he would have been embarrassed and probably vilified”, says Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post. The summit has confirmed the wisdom of Kim’s nuclear policy (without his programme, Trump would not have been there) and will reinforce Kim’s legitimacy.

But there is another way of casting the conversation between the two leaders, says Roger Boyes in The Times. Beneath the “stomach-curdling flattery, Trump was playing a more basic game: he was putting in a bid to buy Kim Jong-un”. No one, certainly not Mike Pompeo, is under any illusion that a brutal tyrant is about to magically turn into a “great reformer”. But young Kim is a “materialist” and his country is “bending” under the weight of sanctions. For every concession on nuclear containment, a sanction can be lifted; eventually all would go.

There are “plenty of problems with this approach, but the goal is already clear: to make Kim progressively more addicted to Western cash than to nuclear weapons”. “Naturally Trump does not mean half the things he said in Singapore.” Without his nuclear weapons, a “de-fanged” Kim will be a “nobody”. But he will be a “rich nobody, sleeping safe in his bed”.