Security and Foreign Policy

Five Key Takaways From The Trump-Kim Summit

The much awaited Singapore Summit saw the leader of North Korea and the President of the United States make niceties. Andy Laub recaps the meeting providing some key takeaways.


The infamous high stakes summit in Singapore between U.S President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un ended on Tuesday morning with little drama and substance that the two estranged nations could build on. The event seemed well choreographed, the two leaders warm and cordial without overly embracing one another. President Trump raised the stakes of the summit while leaving his unsuccessful G7 trip in Canada in which he lashed out at America’s allies by saying Kim Jong-Un had a one shot deal at showing at denuclearization. The summit was aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program but the lackluster meeting left much to be desired. Here are some of the key takeaways from this momentous and long-awaited summit.

1. Joint-Communique With No Action Plan

The joint communique signed by both men and released afterward will be better known for what it did not say rather than what it said. Noticeably light on specifics, it made only passing references to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula saying both sides remained committed but lacked specifics on any kind of process that would ensue after the summit to try and help reach that point. There was additionally no mention of any methods of verification that North Korea would agree to or put in place to comply with a potential disarmament agreement. There was also no mention of the timing about signing a formal peace treaty ending the Korean War, which was largely discussed as a leading topic for the summit. Furthermore, the language was so vague it doesn’t hold either party accountable, should they decide to take a different course of action if for example the relationship sours again. The point of the summit was to get the ball rolling in-terms of a denuclearization process and the framework for what negotiations might look like, Singapore failed to do so coming across as a major missed opportunity. The reference to denuclearization came in the form of a reaffirmation April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, through which the DPRK “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The burden of denuclearization, thus, is placed on North Korea alone and the statement indicates little to no movement on any coordination with the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA). The much larger issue at hand remains whether North Korea will adhere to its commitment and in fact denuclearize.

2. Major Concession on Suspending Joint Military Drills

Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed great deal maker made a major concession without much of anything in return by promising to suspend joint military drills with South Korea, a consistent irritant to their Northern counterparts. But the drills were of key importance to the US-Republic Of Korea alliance to show solidarity against a common threat. The suspension of drills led South Korea’s President’s office to say “we need to figure out what President Trump meant” with regard to his suspension of the drills. North Korea has also long attempted to drive wedges between the alliance for its own gain. It seems that, for now, the North got its wish in seeing the drills suspended.

3. No Mention of North Korea’s Human Rights Record

Trump was also criticized for not bringing up North Korea’s abhorrent human rights record. The rogue nation is believed to be holding some 200,000 political prisoners in concentration camps. North Korean defector Yeonmi Park, author of ‘In Order To Live” spoke out about the summit saying Trump should have been more vocal to Kim about human rights  “He should have asked for some concessions from the North Korean side. If Trump really wants change, he should have asked [Kim] to open the concentration camps and let journalists go into the country.” Furthermore the backdrop of US and DPRK flags lined up together did not sit well with many and President Trump’s referring to Mr. Kim as a “very talented man who loves his country” it’s hard to see those words sitting well with those who care about human rights about a dictator who runs the largest network of modern day concentration camps and executed many of his top inner circle including his Uncle and Half Brother. Mr. Trump did bring up in his first post interview with Sean Hannity the case of Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was detained for stealing a poster and sent back to the United States over a year later in a coma, he died shortly after returning saying that “the meeting would not have happened without Otto.”

4. Sanctions on North Korea Will Remain In Place But To What End

President Trump did keep his pledge to maintain all sanctions on North Korea. However, the fate of the multilateral maximum pressure campaign is now in jeopardy with China already saying sanctions should be loosened on the DPRK. As both its closest trading partner, ally and permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China can go a long way as it has in the past to let the air out of the tires of the US led sanctions campaign. With the US maximizing pressure on China with tariffs, there is very little room to negotiate with China to honor US sanctions.

5. North Korea Notches a Win

Bottom line: North Korea scored big from the Singapore summit. They won a huge propaganda victory by getting their first ever meeting with a sitting US President and Kim Jong-Un legitimized himself as a major world leader of a nuclear weapons state on the world stage without having to give anything up for them. North Korea continued to gain the upper-hand making it harder to reach an eventual deal on its nuclear weapons program, since they are in a position to demand more concession from the United States that the U.S. won’t particularly like.

Going forward Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will need to assemble a team of the best diplomatic and disarmament experts and lay out a clear strategy on what the long-term negotiation process with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program will look like. He will also need to travel the world seeking to retain support for that strategy from allies and key players such as South Korea and Japan, who are understandably nervous given the President’s behavior at the G7 and lack of concessions at the Singapore summit. President Trump disparaged the Iran Nuclear Deal negotiated by the Obama administration so much so that he pulled out of it without offering evidence. Trump, who first demanded North Korea completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program upfront, now asked nothing of them at all at the Summit. The approach he took provides no clear path forward and will ultimately need a phased-in approach similar to the Iran Nuclear deal verified by the IAEA bringing sanctions relief. Diplomacy is about finding the middle ground and President Trump should perhaps revisit President Obama’s strategy on Iran if he wants to succeed on a much tougher deal with North Korea.

Andy Laub is the Director for Partnerships and North Korea Analyst at Political Insights. He also serves as the International Chapters Director for Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Andy received his Master of Science in Global Affairs from New York University.

Photo Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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