WASHINGTON (AP) — America and the world can “sleep well tonight,” President Donald Trump declared on Wednesday, boasting that his summit with Kim Jong Un had ended any nuclear threat from North Korea though the meeting produced no details on how or when weapons might be eliminated or even reduced.
While Trump claimed a historic breakthrough at the most significant diplomatic event of his presidency, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was more measured. He said the U.S. wants North Korea to take “major” nuclear disarmament steps within the next two years — before the end of Trump’s first term in 2021.
Pompeo also cautioned that the U.S. would resume “war games” with close ally South Korea if the North stops negotiating in good faith. The president had announced a halt in the drills after his meeting with Kim on Tuesday, a concession long sought by Pyongyang.
The summit in Singapore did mark a reduction in tensions — a sea change from last fall, when North Korea was conducting nuclear and missile tests and Trump and Kim were trading threats and insults that stoked fears of war. Kim is now promising to work toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
But the details of what is sure to be a complex and contentious process have yet to be settled.
Despite the uncertainties, Trump talked up the outcome of what was the first meeting between a U.S. and North Korean leader in six decades of hostility. The Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty, leaving the two sides in a technical state of war.
“Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Trump tweeted early Wednesday. “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!”
Pompeo, who flew to Seoul to brief South Korean leaders, said the brief, four-point joint statement that emerged from the summit did not encapsulate all the progress the U.S. and North Korea had made. He said negotiations would recommence “in the next week or so.”
He bristled at questions from reporters about the vague wording of the statement where North Korea “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” — a promise it has made several times before in the past 25 years and reneged on. Pompeo said Kim understands that “there will be in-depth verification” in any deal with the U.S.
Trump’s claim that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat is questionable considering Pyongyang’s significant weapons arsenal.
Independent experts say the North could have enough fissile material for between about a dozen and 60 nuclear bombs. Last year it tested long-range missiles that could reach the U.S. mainland, although it remains unclear if it has mastered the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead that could re-enter the atmosphere and hit its target.
“Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea,” Trump tweeted. “President (Barack) Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer - sleep well tonight!”
Actually, concerns about North Korean missiles and nuclear weapons reached a peak last year, during Trump’s first year in office, as the North conducted more tests and Trump and Kim aimed ever more fiery rhetoric at each other.
Christopher Hill, chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea in the George W. Bush administration, suggested in an interview that it’s “a little premature” for Trump to say Kim is someone the U.S. can trust.
“Kim Jong Un has proved to be a pretty ruthless leader in North Korea, and I’m not sure this sort of speed dating of a 45-minute one-on-one meeting … would suggest that there’s nothing to be concerned about,” he said.
When asked Wednesday whether Trump was jumping the gun by declaring victory, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters: “This president wants North Korea to completely denuclearize so obviously that has to be complete, verifiable and irreversible.”
Freezing the regular military exercises with South Korea is a major concession to North Korea that has long claimed the drills were invasion preparations. Trump’s announcement appeared to catch the Pentagon and officials in Seoul off guard, and some South Koreans were alarmed. Trump cast the decision as a cost-saving measure, but also called the exercises “inappropriate” while talks continue.