Handshake is historic, but words still matter
The handshake was historic. The words? Not so much.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday touted his unprecedented meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a breakthrough that would ease decades of tensions that have made the Korean Peninsula one of the most dangerous places on Earth.
But the four-point joint statement the two men signed fell short of previous international accords reached with Pyongyang and left big questions unanswered.
“We’re prepared to start a new history, and we’re ready to write a new chapter,” a relaxed and triumphant Trump said at a news conference after the oneday summit in Singapore. He called the outcome a “first, bold step for a brighter future.”
“The world will see a major change,” Kim had declared as the two men stood side-by-side in front of a phalanx of U.S. and North Korean flags.
It was one more sign of how Trump is rewriting long-standing fundamentals of American foreign policy. He described Kim, a despotic adversary, as a “talented” leader who could be trusted. That came just days after he blasted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a democratic ally, as “weak” and “dishonest” after a combative Group of Seven economic summit.
The North Koreans “wanted to make a deal, and making a deal is a great thing for the world,” Trump said. The president dismissed the idea that the summit itself represented a major concession by the United States that had won little concrete in return.
For more than an hour at a wideranging news conference, Trump basked in what he portrayed as a legacy- making achievement. He fielded questions from reporters from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere, joking with some about favorable or unfavorable stories they had written about him in the past.
While there was skepticism about whether Trump could provide evidence of substantive progress, there was little doubt Kim got what he wanted: a meeting with a sitting U.S. president, a prize that eluded his father and grandfather. The two men stood as equals on stage, and Trump said he was “honored” to be there. With that picture alone, Kim bolstered the global legitimacy of what had been seen as a pariah state.
Indeed, Trump said he would invite Kim “at the appropriate time” to visit the White House.
For now, Trump said tough sanctions on North Korea would remain in place until the denuclearization process was well underway. But he said the United States would stop the joint military exercises with South Korea that North Korea has long protested as provocative.
In the accord, Kim reaffirmed the commitment he made in the Panmunjom Declaration with South Korea in April “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” That promise was less far-reaching and less specific than the agreement North Korea signed at the so-called six-party talks in 2005. Then, Pyongyang promised to abandon all nuclear weapons, to return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to submit to international inspections.
“Handshakes matter,” said David Reynolds, a Cambridge historian and author of “Summits: Six Meetings That Shaped the Twentieth Century.” “A handshake matters, and that handshake between Kim and Trump matters as a symbolic thing. But there is a substantive side of summitry that takes weeks to work through before we know if this is a breakthrough or not.”