Did Trump and Kim Make History? How Summit Document Compares to Past Agreements

Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader on Tuesday when he sat down with Kim Jong Un in Singapore. The historic occasion concluded with an agreement signed by Trump and Kim highlighting four points of commitment between the two countries.

Ahead of the summit, members of the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, promised to work toward the goal of "complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization." This would involve North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons so it can't resume their production, while allowing for international observers to guarantee the abandonment of their pursuit. However, the document signed in Singapore defines denuclearization only as "complete," with no steps defined for the "verifiable and irreversible" elements of the process. 

Answering reporters' questions about the agreement, Trump said the document signed did not include all of the points he and Kim agreed on. "You have things that weren't included that we got after the deal was signed. I've done that before in my life. We didn't put them in the agreement because there wasn't enough time," he said.

According to Trump, Kim agreed to the destruction of a "major missile engine test site." Perhaps most surprising, Trump said he will end joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea, describing the so-called war games as "tremendously expensive" and "inappropriate."

06_12_kim_Trump_Document North Korea’s Kim Jong Un attends the document-signing ceremony with President Donald Trump during their summit in Singapore on June 12. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

As soon as the text of the document signed became available to the press, experts on North Korean affairs noted that the agreement did not represent any breakthrough in the nearly two-decade-long diplomatic engagement between the two countries. "The U.S. could have extracted serious concessions, but it was not done. N.Korea will be emboldened and the U.S. got nothing," Russian scholar Andrei Lankov, director of the Korea Risk Group, said on Twitter.

Robert E. Kelly, an American inter-Korean affairs analyst and associate professor of political science at South Korea's Pusan National University, defined the agreement as "depressing" and "pathetic." 

"God, this is just depressing. All that hype for this? All that drama and the Nobel talk? Come, art of the deal. This is it? This is, well, pathetic given that the US president was personally involved," he wrote on Twitter.

06_12_Trump_Document President Donald Trump holds up a document signed with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un during their summit in Singapore on June 12. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

When the four-point document is compared with past agreements signed by previous U.S. administrations and previous North Korean officials, a few differences emerge—indeed, some past agreements are more detailed in describing the expectations of the two countries.

What all of the previous agreements and joint statements have in common is that, ultimately, they weren't fully honored. The White House promised that this time things would be different. But during the press conference, Trump said that while he had a good feeling about Kim's commitment to keeping his word, he could not predict what the future would bring.

"I may stand in front of you in six months’ time and say I was wrong," he told reporters, before admitting that he would actually never say that and would "find some kind of excuse" instead.

The Trump-Kim summit's first point affirms the two countries' willingness to embark on a new path of relations. "The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity," it reads, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

06_12_Kim_Document Kim Jong Un looks over his document at the signing ceremony with President Donald Trump during the Singapore summit on June 12. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Similar language was used in October 2000 in the U.S.-DPRK Joint Communiqué released in Washington following the visit of then-leader Kim Jong Il's personal envoy, Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, to the U.S. That document, however, went further in identifying the means of forging a new path, including the establishment of four-party talks and the replacement of the 1953 Korean War armistice agreement with "permanent peace arrangements." 

Trump told reporters he did not discuss a peace treaty that would follow the armistice agreement, even though the second point in the Trump-Kim agreement refers to peace on the Korean Peninsula. "The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula," the agreement reads. This is similar to the commitment in the 1993 Joint Statement on DPRK and U.S., the first bilateral document between the two countries, but the latter defines the peninsula as "nuclear-free"—a formulation lacking in the Trump-Kim statement. 

Denuclearization is the third point in the agreement, with a reference to the Panmunjom declaration signed by Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the inter-Korean summit in April. "Reaffirming the April 27, 2018, Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," the agreement reads. The declaration also refers to denuclearization as "complete," with no mention of "verifiable and irreversible." 

06_12_Kim_Trump_Handshake President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un shake hands following the signing ceremony on June 12. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

A previous joint statement issued after the September 2005 six-party talks among the U.S., South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Russia and China defined denuclearization as "verifiable" in the first mention and then established a process for the verification to occur. "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning at an early date to the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and to IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards." 

As a reporter pressed him to give a timeline for when he thinks denuclearization will happen, Trump said, "We will do it as fast as it can be done scientifically, as fast as it can be done mechanically." He added, "There will be a point when you are 20 percent through, you can’t go back."

Nearly all previous declarations or agreements conclude by setting up future intentions, whether it was a next date for the six-party talks in the 2005 statement or provisions for a visit by then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang later in 2000. The Trump-Kim agreement, however, makes no such commitment. Trump said he would invite Kim to the White House at a date yet to be defined—"at the appropriate time," he said—after more progress is done.

06_12_Kim_Hand_Trump President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un leave after signing documents that acknowledge the progress of the U.S.–North Korea talks, along with a pledge to keep the momentum going, in Singapore on June 12. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The Trump-Kim agreement concludes with a point that does not deal with nuclear weapons but is a reference to a clause in the 1953 Korean War armistice agreement concerning prisoners of war and those missing in action that was never fully observed. "The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified," the agreement's final clause reads. According to Trump, this was a last-minute addition to the document, to which Kim conceded.

The commitment will please the Coalition of Families of Korean & Cold War POW/MIAs, which issued a plea to Trump on Monday that urged the president "to do everything in your power to ensure that those who paid the ultimate price for freedom during the Korean War are finally returned to their families," Military.com reported.

Related: In pictures: Key moments in North Korea–U.S. relations

The issues of human rights abuses and the return of foreign citizens abducted by the North Korean regime in the past few decades—a key demand from U.S. ally Japan—did not get an explicit mention in the document. Rebuffing reporters who suggested there were negative implications in shaking hands with a dictator, Trump said that those North Koreans who are imprisoned in Kim's camps will be some of the "great winners" of the summit.

"I think I've helped them," Trump said.

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