SINGAPORE — The Singapore summit went pretty much the way many people expected: President Donald Trump declared victory, while skeptics questioned whether Kim Jong Un would ever give up North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Those positions probably won’t change anytime soon, right up to the next summit.
As he headed back to the White House, Trump predicted that Kim would follow through on his commitment to the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula, while critics called it a recycled pledge from previous statements of this type that have gone nowhere.
Each side agreed on one thing: More meetings are probably needed before Kim and North Korea decide to de-nuke.
“I think he wants to get it done,” Trump told reporters en route to Washington, D.C., from the Singapore summit, though he added: “We’re going to have to check it. And we will check it. We’ll check It very strongly.”
On Twitter, Trump proclaimed that “great progress was made on the denuclearization of North Korea. Hostages are back home, will be getting the remains of our great heroes back to their families, no missiles shot, no research happening, sites closing.”
The joint statement from Trump and Kim hailed by the president drew negative reviews from member of the foreign policy community who said its lack of specifics render it meaningless.
“North Korea offered nothing but vague promises that it has made before — in exchange, they were recognized as a nuclear power,” said Thomas Wright, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
Wright and others also said Trump made a major concession by saying he would end U.S. joint military exercises with South Korea, and suggesting he might pull American troops from North Korea’s rival nation.
The South Koreans have asked Trump to clarify his remarks.
Critics called the statement too general, without any sort of definition of what the term “complete denuclearization” means. They noted that it lacked the terms the Trump administration had insisted upon, namely the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible” dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.
“As anticipated, the agreement contained no new commitments from North Korea, only repackaged promises,” said Abigail Grace, research associate with the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.
Olivia Enos, policy analyst with the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., called the Singapore summit “heavy on pomp and circumstance, and low on details,” especially in the joint statement touted by Trump.
“The promise of future dialogue means it’s possible to hammer out those details going forward, but commitments were limited, general and unspecific,” said Enos, who was in Singapore for the festivities.
Organizations dedicated to eliminating nuclear weapons said the Trump administration need to push the North Koreans for details on denuclearization, from an inventory of all their weapons and test sites to an inspection system to make sure they are dismantled.
Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his North Korean counterparts should “quickly follow up with negotiations aimed at hammering out a more detailed action plan” on how to move forward.
“Unfortunately, it is still unclear at this point whether the two sides are on the same page about definitions and the pace and the sequencing of many steps involved in the complete ‘denuclearization’ of the Korean peninsula,” Kimball said.
The summit did seem to brighten the environment for future talks on sensitive subjects, analysts said. They cited the many pictures of Trump and Kim getting along: At one point, Trump even let the North Korean dictator look inside the U.S. presidential limousine known as “The Beast.”
“This is an improvement from when they were talking about ‘fire and fury,'” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
Fihn, who also was in Singapore, said “the follow-on negotiations” will now determine the ultimate success of the summit.
One concern, she said: The highly publicized summit — replete with Kim-Trump photo opportunities beamed around the world, the North Korean and American flags flying side-by-side — lent Kim prestige, and may make him less likely to compromise.
“He’s been given quite a lot of legitimacy now,” Fihn said. “It sends a strong signal that if you have nuclear weapons, you matter.”
Trump disputed the notion that he has no leverage over Kim moving forward, stressing that in the meantime the United States will maintain sanctions that have crippled North Korea’s economy.
More sanctions are coming if North Korea balks, Trump and his aides said. And the United States and other nations are prepared to help Kim’s country if he indeed pursues denuclearization.
“Chairman Kim has before him an opportunity like no other,” Trump said at a post-summit news conference. “To be remembered as the leader who ushered in a glorious new era of security and prosperity for his people.”
It may require another summit or two, though.
“Our eyes are wide open” at the challenges, Trump said, and “we’ll probably need another summit … or meeting. We can use a different term. But we’ll probably need another one.”
At another point, Trump joked with reporters that he might be “wrong” about Kim.
“Honestly, I think he’s going to do these things; I may be wrong,” the president said. “I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”