Trump tells world it can ‘sleep well’ after North Korea summit
Democrats say too soon to celebrate, senator calls claim ‘delusional’
President Trump asserted Wednesday that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat, raising questions in Washington about the administration’s elusive details for disarming Pyongyang, a day after the president’s historic summit with Kim Jong-un.
Returning to the White House around dawn after a nearly 24-hour journey from the summit site in Singapore, the president said the world could “sleep well” as a result of his agreement with North Korea’s leader.
“There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” Mr. Trump tweeted, adding that “everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office.”
The joint summit statement signed by the two leaders committed North Korea to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but doesn’t specify a process or timetable.
Democrats said the president was spiking the football in celebration before crossing the goal line, some even comparing it with President George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner during the Iraq war, years before fighting ended.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, called Mr. Trump’s claim “truly delusional.”
“It [North Korea] has same arsenal today as 48 hours ago,” he tweeted. “Does he really think his big photo-op ended the [North Korea’s] nuclear program? Hope does not equal reality.”
Former Clinton administration special envoy George Mitchell called the president’s comment “unwise and premature.”
In a survey released Wednesday by Reuters, 39 percent of Americans believe the summit has lowered the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea, while 37 percent said they don’t believe it has changed anything.
Slightly more than half of all Americans say they approve of how Mr. Trump has handled North Korea, but only a quarter think that his summit this week with Mr. Kim will lead to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
The administration and its Republican allies defended the terms of the agreement, saying “complete” denuclearization means just that — complete.
“This president wants North Korea to completely denuclearize so obviously that has to be complete, verifiable and irreversible,” said White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.
Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the rest of the U.S. team working on North Korea are now moving into the “trust but verify” phase.
“Now comes vigorous negotiations to implement the agreement …. as soon as possible,” Mr. Pence said. “Our sanctions will remain in place until North Korea’s nuclear weapons are no longer a factor. We will not repeat the mistakes of the past.”
He also noted that North Korea hasn’t tested a missile in about seven months. Mr. Kim has pledged not to conduct any more tests.
Before taking office, Mr. Trump tweeted, “people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea.”
“President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer — sleep well tonight!” he said in another tweet.
In South Korea, Mr. Pompeo told reporters there were other understandings reached between Washington and Pyongyang that were not included in the final signed summit document. He said he’s confident North Korea understands there will be an in-depth verification of its disarmament process, and he hopes a “major” part of that can be achieved before the end of Mr. Trump’s current term.
On Thursday, the two Koreas held high-level military talks in the Demilitarized Zone village of Panmunjom, their first such talks since 2007, to begin to implement steps to reduce tension along their border, as agreed to in an earlier summit between Mr. Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
But one side or the other is expected to bring up both the denuclearization pledges and U.S.-South Korea military exercises.
“We will invest our best efforts to bring in a new era of peace on the Korean Peninsula,” South Korean Maj. Gen. Kim Do-gyun told reporters before the talks.
North Korea is believed to possess more than 50 nuclear devices, with weapons facilities spread out at roughly 100 sites across the country to evade detection. The country’s communist regime has made past pledges to the U.S. to curb its weapons programs, only to break the promises and buy more time to further develop its atomic devices and longer-range missiles.
The summit in Singapore marked a major reduction of tensions from last fall, when North Korea conducted a series of missile tests and detonated a hydrogen bomb underground in violation of U.N. resolutions, and Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim were trading threats of annihilation.
House Speaker Paul. D. Ryan said Mr. Trump deserves credit because “the status quo was not working with North Korea.”
“They were racing toward having multiple independent ICBMs with nuclear-tipped warheads on top of them,” he said. “The president should be applauded for disrupting the status quo. Now, let’s go get an agreement. And we should be under no delusion this is going to be fast.”
Democrats argued that the administration is relying on promises from a regime that isn’t trustworthy, and that nothing on the ground has changed in North Korea.
“The reality is North Korea still has all of the warheads it had before, the nuclear warheads it had before, it has the nuclear process to create fissile material, to create bombs,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, on CNN. “And so, at the end of the day, the same exact threat that we had before the summit exists now.”
North Korean state-run media said Wednesday that Mr. Kim “highly praised the president’s will and enthusiasm to resolve matters in a realistic way through dialogue and negotiations, away from the hostility-woven past.”
The newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported extensive coverage of the summit, saying that Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump “gladly accepted each other’s invitation” to visit Pyongyang and Washington, respectively, in follow-up meetings from the denuclearization summit.
The coverage included 33 images of Mr. Trump, Mr. Kim and others at the summit, and it praised the “will of the top leaders of the two countries to put an end to the extreme hostile relations between the DPRK and the U.S.”
According to a summary in NK News, the coverage in North Korea highlighted Mr. Trump’s promise to end joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises, but didn’t mention Mr. Kim’s promise to destroy a major missile-engine test site in North Korea.
“There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” tweeted President Trump. He added that in another tweet that “everybody can now feel much safer.”