Trump to end mil­i­tary games

Praise, con­ces­sion by pres­i­dent, but no dis­ar­ma­ment plan

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Vic­to­ria Kim, Noah Bier­man and Matt Stiles

SIN­GA­PORE — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump wrapped up his im­prob­a­ble sum­mit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tues­day, vow­ing to “start a new his­tory” with the nu­clear-armed na­tion after sign­ing a vaguely worded agree­ment that con­tained no con­crete plan for dis­ar­ma­ment.

Later, at a 65-minute news con­fer­ence, Trump said he had agreed to North Korea’s long­time de­mands to stop joint U.S. mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with South Korea. The war games have been a main­stay of the U.S. al­liance with Seoul for decades.

Trump said halt­ing the drills would save “a lot of money” and he called them “provoca­tive,” the com­plaint North Korea of­ten made. He also said he hopes even­tu­ally to with­draw the 28,000 U.S. troops sta­tioned in South Korea, al­though not as part of the cur­rent agree­ment with Kim.

In only the sec­ond full solo news

con­fer­ence of his pres­i­dency, Trump said he had been awake for 25 hours — he turns 72 on Thurs­day — but that he was bullish about his day of diplo­macy with the young au­to­crat from Py­ongyang.

He lav­ished praise on Kim as a “great ta­lent,” de­nied con­cerns about treat­ing him as an equal and painted a rosy pic­ture of North Korea’s potential fu­ture — one laid out in an un­usual pro­pa­ganda-style video that the White House had pre­pared for the North Korean leader.

When asked why he trusted a ruler who had mur­dered fam­ily mem­bers and jailed thou­sands of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, Trump lauded Kim for tak­ing over the regime at age 26, after his fa­ther died in 2011, and be­ing “able to run it, and run it tough.”

While Trump re­peat­edly por­trayed his two-page agree­ment with Kim as “com­pre­hen­sive,” it con­tained lit­tle new ex­cept a com­mit­ment by both sides to con­tinue diplo­matic en­gage­ment, with Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo lead­ing the U.S. side in fu­ture talks.

That is no small achieve­ment con­sid­er­ing that the two lead­ers were threat­en­ing each other with nu­clear war last sum­mer. But it was far less than the am­bi­tious arms con­trol deal Trump had men­tioned achiev­ing when he agreed to the sum­mit in March.

The doc­u­ment in­stead re­it­er­ated the same vague North Korean com­mit­ment to de­nu­cle­arize that Kim made after he met South Korea’s pres­i­dent in April, but it of­fered no specifics of how or when any dis­ar­ma­ment might take place.

“We will do it as fast as it can me­chan­i­cally and phys­i­cally be done,” Trump said, adding it would “take a long time” to wind down the nu­clear weapons pro­gram. Un­til re­cently, Trump had de­manded Py­ongyang quickly dismantle its vast nu­clear in­fras­truc­ture.

A per­son fa­mil­iar with the work­ing-level talks that set the fi­nal stage for Tues­day’s sum­mit said the U.S. team had pushed for a com­mit­ment from Kim to de­nu­cle­arize by 2020, when the next U.S. pres­i­den­tial election will be un­der­way.

North Korea’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives balked at the demand for a dead­line, the per­son said.

The signed agree­ment, which was re­leased by the White House, says North Korea will “work to­ward com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula.” It does not of­fer the pledge of “com­plete, ver­i­fi­able, ir­re­versible de­nu­cle­ariza­tion” that Pom­peo had in­sisted was the U.S. ob­jec­tive.

A ver­i­fi­able and per­ma­nent dis­ar­ma­ment agree­ment would re­quire North Korea to al­low in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tors to en­gter and col­lect records, mon­i­tor sites and en­sure it does not cheat. Py­ongyang ex­pelled United Na­tions nu­clear in­spec­tors nearly a decade ago and Tues­day’s agree­ment does not mention bring­ing them back.

The agree­ment was weaker than the pledge North Korea made in 2005, dur­ing an ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful bout of nu­clear diplo­macy, when it com­mit­ted it­self to “aban­don­ing all nu­clear weapons and ex­ist­ing nu­clear pro­grams.”

The regime in­stead tested its first nu­clear de­vice the fol­low­ing year. It has con­ducted five un­der­ground tests since then, most re­cently in Sep­tem­ber. It is be­lieved to have as­sem­bled at least two dozen war­heads.

In a largely sym­bolic U.S. gain, North Korea com­mit­ted it­self to the “im­me­di­ate repa­tri­a­tion” of any re­mains it had iden­ti­fied of U.S. sol­diers and pris­on­ers of war from the Korean War, which ended 65 years ago. Trump said fam­i­lies had im­plored him for help on that painful is­sue.

Tues­day’s pact doesn’t mention North Korea’s gruesome record of hu­man rights abuses, in­clud­ing a vast prison camp sys­tem. Asked if he raised the is­sue, Trump said they dis­cussed it “rel­a­tively briefly” be­cause their talks were fo­cused on nu­clear weapons.

He sug­gested that hu­man rights in North Korea, which the U.N. has ac­cused of “sys­tem­atic, wide­spread and gross hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions,” did not dif­fer greatly from other na­tions.

“I be­lieve it’s a rough sit­u­a­tion over there, there’s no ques­tion about it,” he said. “It’s rough in a lot of places by the way.”

But Trump sug­gested that neg­a­tive publicity about the death last year of Otto Warm­bier, a col­lege stu­dent from Ohio who was re­turned home in a coma from a North Korean prison, had helped pave the way for the diplo­matic thaw.

“Otto did not die in vain,” Trump said. “He had a lot to do with us be­ing here.”

Trump de­nied that he was lending le­git­i­macy to the op­pres­sive leader of a long-marginal­ized regime by stand­ing shoul­der to shoul­der with him. He said sit­ting at the ta­ble with Kim wasn’t a con­ces­sion.

“I’ll do what­ever it takes to make the world a safer place,” he said. “All I can say is they want to make a deal. That’s what I do. My whole life has been deals. I’m great at it.”

In Seoul, South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in her­alded the agree­ment, say­ing, “It will be recorded as a historic event that has helped break down the last re­main­ing Cold War legacy on Earth.”

Moon’s state­ment did not ad­dress Trump’s de­ci­sion to can­cel joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, a cru­cial part of the close mil­i­tary al­liance that emerged from the 1950-53 Korean War.

In­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts praised the con­tin­ued diplo­macy but most found lit­tle to like in the agree­ment and Trump’s con­ces­sion on mil­i­tary ex­er­cises.

Don­ald Trump

Kim Jong Un

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