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A success for Kim, not so much for Trump

Mr Trump and Mr Kim strolling through the courtyard of Capella hotel. Some Korea watchers said that it was better for the US and North Korea to be talking than threatening each other.


DONALD Trump's historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was unquestionably a success - for Mr Kim.

By credibly threatening the US with nuclear war, he won a one-on-one meeting with the American president - a longtime strategic goal of his family's regime. And that's not all.

Mr Trump tossed in a suspension of military exercises with South Korea, while China suggested revisiting economic sanctions that the White House credits for the summit. Meanwhile, the president showered Mr Kim with praise, calling the dictator who leads one of the planet's most oppressive and brutal regimes "smart" and "very talented," declaring the meeting "a great honour" and saying he trusts Mr Kim.

Less clear is what the US got in return. American officials said before the meeting they would insist that Mr Kim agree to the "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement" of his nuclear weapons arsenal. The phrase appears nowhere in Mr Trump and Mr Kim's statement.

Also missing: basics such as a timetable for Mr Kim to give up his weapons, verification procedures or even a mutual definition of denuclearisation.

The president described the summit as a starting point, and the US concessions as innocuous. "I gave up nothing," he told reporters at a news conference, and then read off a list of what he believes were North Korean concessions - a halt to missile and nuclear tests, the earlier release of three US hostages and a promise to return remains of US soldiers dating to the Korean War.

Still, some Korea watchers said that it was better for the US and North Korea to be talking than threatening each other, even without a host of specific commitments from Mr Kim.

"I would rate the summit a 10 because it achieved a first-ever diplomatic encounter between two long-time adversaries," said Patrick Cronin, director of the Center for a New American Security's Asia-Pacific security programme. "They signed a broad political understanding while leaving the details for expert negotiations to follow."

Mr Trump's political supporters back home may well agree. Seventy per cent of Americans supported Mr Trump meeting with Mr Kim, according to a poll by Real Clear Politics and the Charles Koch Institute, even though just 31 per cent think he'll succeed in persuading North Korea to give up its weapons.

But so far, Mr Trump hasn't shown he'll avoid the same trap he's accused his predecessors of falling into: giving North Korea too much without getting anything in return. While the president repeatedly described the document he and Mr Kim signed as "comprehensive," at 426 words it is anything but - and there is no indication of when or how Mr Kim will follow through on any of his promises.

"I think he will start that process right away," Mr Trump said.

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, criticised the document as "unsubstantial" and said Mr Trump and Mr Kim instead should have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Michael McFaul, who served as president Barack Obama's ambassador to Russia, said on Twitter after the document was released that the US "gave up a lot for nothing" with the summit and got "much, much less than a binding deal".

For all of what he achieved at the summit, Mr Kim's path ahead isn't all simple. Mr Trump made clear he was keeping US sanctions in place until he saw evidence of a reduced nuclear threat. Mr Kim won only a vague "security guarantee" from Mr Trump and no mention of a treaty to formally end the hostilities between the two nations.

But the summit did have all of the trappings Mr Kim could have desired. He and Mr Trump met on a red carpet in front of a backdrop of equal numbers of US and North Korean flags at the Capella hotel, a luxury resort on Singapore's Sentosa Island. They greeted each other with a 12-second handshake, then retired for a 38-minute private meeting before being joined by aides.

There were multiple photo ops, including a walk through the hotel's garden, more handshakes, pats on the back and finally the signing ceremony, complete with a pen bearing Mr Trump's signature that Mr Kim did not appear to use.

Through a translator, North Korea's leader summed up the surreal nature of the meeting, telling the US president that those watching around the world might see it as "a science fiction movie".

Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and a former official of the US State and Treasury departments who investigated the illicit financing of North Korea, said Mr Trump's meeting with Mr Kim appeared heavy on pomp and light on substance.

Former South Korean foreign minister Yoon Young Kwan said Mr Trump's negotiation appears "very different" from past talks between the two countries because it's the first time a sitting US president has taken a primarily political approach to the issue.

"So far US administrations tended to focus on a narrowly defined military-security deal instead of trying to tackle the root cause of North Korea problem, which is a high level of mutual distrust," he said on Bloomberg Television. "North Korea is a small and weak country surrounded by big powers, and that has made North Koreans paranoid about their own national security.

"We needed to alleviate this kind of paranoia of North Korea on their own national security," he said. BLOOMBERG

READ MORE: Realism, not idealism, wins the day

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