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Trump-Kim summit: How to read between the lines of the joint statement

5 0 1029
13.06.2018

SINGAPORE - In the end, there were no surprises.

The Singapore summit was never going to be the disaster that some predicted. Nor were 70 years of hostility ever going to be wiped clean by a single meeting. The summit went pretty much as it was always going to go: as the first step of a process.

The joint statement (JS) signed by US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday (June 12) at the end of their morning of talks agreed to "expeditiously" hold follow-up negotiations between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and an unspecified "high-level DPRK official" - the Democratic People's Republic of Korea being the official name for North Korea.

This was entirely predictable.

The summit was something less than the "epochal event" that the JS boasted. Its four operative paragraphs, while brief and phrased in general terms, are nevertheless potentially a game changer, though perhaps not in exactly the same way as the two leaders publicly claimed.

The Trump administration had been moving towards dealing with a nuclear-armed North Korea by deterrence. There is no other way of dealing with a nuclear power.

Mr Trump deployed more force around the Korean peninsula than the region had seen for some time. His predecessor Barack Obama did little for eight years and called it "strategic patience". As for Mr Trump, bombing Syria while at dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping was a brilliant stroke that restored the credibility of American power which was grievously eroded when Mr Obama drew a red line but failed to enforce it. Mr Kim surely understood.


US President Donald Trump holding up a document signed by him and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, following a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit at the Capella Singapore on June 12, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

After the summit, Mr Trump said that he was freezing joint military exercises with South Korea. But nothing in the JS commits him to drawing down American forces. No one should bet on him not changing his mind on exercises either.

Deterrence having been re-established, it was timely to stabilise it by diplomatic engagement.

Joint Statement of President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the #SingaporeSummit pic.twitter.com/cSubS9RRJj

The JS commits the two sides to "establish new US-DPRK relations". It is not clear whether this means the establishment of formal diplomatic relations. But even if "new relations" fall short of full diplomatic recognition, this is not an inconsequential shift.

Ever since he stepped up the tempo of missile and nuclear tests, the initiative has been with Mr Kim - not the US or China, and certainly not Japan or South Korea.

Mr Trump deserves credit for seizing the opportunity to level the game when Mr Kim offered an........

© The Straits Times