WASHINGTON — President Trump said he trusts North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to follow through on initial agreements to work toward denuclearization after “very intensive hours together” that he found “honest, direct and productive.”
“We’re prepared to start a new history and prepared to write a new chapter between our nations,” Trump said at a press conference in Singapore after daylong meetings with Kim and a joint signing of a declaration between the two that Trump said could lead to Kim being “remembered as the leader who ushered in a glorious new era.”
The two leaders did not discuss the contents of the document at the signing; Trump only called it “comprehensive.” The White House released the document about halfway through Trump’s press conference.
“President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the document states, not elaborating on the security guarantees. It also said the two parties “commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified” and would “commit to establish new U.S.–DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity,” but Trump did not say what those new relations would look like.
“Having acknowledged that the U.S.–DPRK summit—the first in history—was an epochal event of great significance in overcoming decades of tensions and hostilities between the two countries and for the opening up of a new future, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un commit to implement the stipulations in this joint statement fully and expeditiously,” the document added. “The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the U.S.–DPRK summit.”
But Trump revealed at the press conference that North Korea received a long-sought concession: the ceasing of regular joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea.
He told reporters that the U.S. wouldn’t be pulling troops off the Korean Peninsula — for now. Defense Secretary James Mattis said last week that would be a non-negotiable point.
“We’re not reducing anything,” Trump said. “I want to get our soldiers out, I want to bring our soldiers back home at some point, I hope… we will be stopping the war games, which will be saving us a tremendous amount of money.”
“I think it’s very provocative,” he said of the yearly exercises, echoing language North Korea uses to describe the drills, adding that stopping the exercises is something North Korea “very much appreciated.”
Asked if North Korea was giving up something in return for the killed drills, Trump replied, “I gave up nothing. I’m here. I haven’t slept in 25 hours. I think the meeting was every bit as good for the United States as for North Korea.”
The president promised “negotiations to implement the agreement as soon as possible,” adding that “I know for a fact as soon as [Kim] arrives [home] he’s going to start a process that’s going to make a lot of people happy and safe.” Trump said Kim would be invited to the White House at some point.
Pressed on his characterization of Kim as “very talented” given the regime’s human rights crimes that include imprisonment, torture or death for more than 100,000 men, women and children deemed political prisoners, Trump said Kim “is very talented,” citing the dictator’s ability to “take over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and run it, and run it tough.”
Trump said of murdered U.S. hostage Otto Warmbier, “Without Otto, I don’t think this would have happened… he had a lot to do with us being here today.”
Asked what methods will be used to verify Kim is actually dismantling sites and taking other steps toward true denuclearization, Trump said “it’s going to be achieved by having a lot of people,” a combination of both American and international officials.
“I think he wants to do this as much or even more than me,” he said of Kim. “…I can only say that I know him really well.”
Trump said human rights were discussed in the meeting and “it will be discussed more in the future.”
“It was discussed relatively briefly compared to denuclearization … I think he wants to do things,” he added, saying Kim is “very smart, very good negotiator, wants to do the right thing.”
The president was asked about his State of the Union address, in which he blasted the brutality of the Kim regime and recognized an escaped political prisoner sitting in the first lady’s box, and whether he felt the same after meeting Kim. Trump said of the human rights landscape in North Korea, “It’s a rough situation over there… it’s rough in a lot of places, by the way, not just there.”
Asked if the human rights situation would change, Trump replied, “I think it probably has to, but I think it will.”
A reporter asked Trump if he had betrayed the voiceless North Koreans in prisons and forced labor camps. “No, I think I’ve helped them,” he said. “There’s nothing I can say …not much I can do right now,” but “I think they are one of the great winners today.”
The president said North Korea’s sanctions “will come off when nukes are no longer a factor,” and “I hope they’ll come off soon.”
Asked about military consequences for North Korea reneging, Trump said, “I don’t want to be threatening — they understood that.”
The president was asked how, after criticizing noncompliance with deals under his successor, he can ensure compliance from Kim. “Can you ensure anything?” he answered. “…All I can say is they want to make a deal.”
“Can anybody be certain? But we’re going to be certain soon because negotiations will continue.”
Denuclearization — not elaborated upon in the document — will occur “as fast as it can be done scientifically,” Trump predicted, adding that “when you’re 20 percent through you can’t go back.”
Trump said what he was told about Kim’s arsenal indicates it’s “very substantial.”
“I really believe that it’s going to go very quickly … we’re much further along than I would have thought,” he said.
Asked if his meeting without preconditions gave a brutal dictator the legitimacy he sought, Trump would not answer and called on the next reporter.