SINGAPORE — The top U.S. diplomat is jetting to South Korea to brief the country’s president as America’s Asian allies try to parse the implications of the extraordinary nuclear summit in Singapore between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet President Moon Jae-in Thursday morning to discuss the meeting, South Korea’s presidential office said. Tuesday’s meeting in Singapore was the first between sitting leaders of the U.S. and North Korea and followed a flurry of diplomatic and cultural exchanges between the two Koreas in recent months.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono is also heading to Seoul and is due to meet with Pompeo and his South Korean counterpart Thursday.
Trump and Kim reached a broad agreement in Singapore that offered few specifics but included promises of U.S. security guarantees and a reiteration from Kim of his country’s commitment to “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Trump however seems to have caught allies off guard by saying he would stop U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which have long irritated the North but are regarded by the U.S. and allied militaries as a bedrock of security preparedness. Even some of Trump’s own Republican supporters in Washington appeared surprised.
Moon has championed engagement with the North, and the language in Tuesday’s agreement on North Korea’s nuclear bombs was similar to wording the leaders of North and South Korea used following their own summit in April. Trump phoned Moon from Air Force One to brief him on the talks.
The details of how and when the North would denuclearize appear yet to be determined, as are the nature of the unspecified “protections” Trump is pledging to Kim and his government.
As Trump acknowledged that denuclearization would not be accomplished overnight, the North suggested Wednesday that Trump had moved away from his demand for complete denuclearization before U.S. sanctions on the long-isolated country are removed.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency said the two leaders “shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” KCNA also reported that Trump had expressed his intention to lift sanctions “over a period of good-will dialogue” between the two countries.
The White House did not immediately respond to the North Korean characterization of the deal.
The accord reached in Singapore is effectively an agreement to keep talking, and echoes previous public statements and commitments. It does not include provisions to end the technical state of warfare between the U.S. and North Korea.
Nor does it detail plans for North Korea to demolish a missile engine testing site, a concession Trump said he’d won, or Trump’s promise to end military exercises in the South while negotiations between the U.S. and the North continue. Trump cast that decision as a cost-saving measure, but also called the exercises “provocative” and “inappropriate” while talks continue.
The U.S. has stationed combat troops in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s and has used them in a variety of drills. The next scheduled major exercise, involving tens of thousands of troops, normally is held in August.
The Pentagon said Tuesday it was consulting with the White House and others, but was silent on whether the August exercise would proceed. Mattis’ chief spokeswoman, Dana W. White, told reporters he was “in full alignment” with Trump.
Lawmakers, too, were looking for details. Republicans emerged from a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence wanting more information on which exercises were on hold. Colorado Sen. Corey Gardner said Pence told them that small-scale exercises would continue, but “war games will not.” Pence’s spokeswoman later denied that comment.
South Koreans reacted to the summit’s outcome with cautious hope and concern.
The liberal Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper said Trump and Kim have started a “march of peace” to end nearly seven decades of hostility and pave the way for permanent peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.
The conservative Chosun Ilbo, the country’s biggest paper, was decidedly more critical, denouncing Trump for offering the end military drills while failing to convince the North to commit to verifiably giving up its nukes for good. It called the summit “dumbfounding and nonsensical,” and said it will allow North Korea to permanently maintain its nuclear weapons program.