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U.S. And North Korea Agree To Set Aside Decades Of Tension At Summit In Singapore

Jun 12, 2018
Originally published on June 12, 2018 9:01 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump is on his way home from his historic meeting with North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, in Singapore. There, the two leaders agreed to set aside decades of tension between their countries and launch a new era of cooperation.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The past does not have to define the future. Yesterday's conflict does not have to be tomorrow's war.

SHAPIRO: Kim renewed North Korea's pledge to denuclearize but gave no details to back that up, and Trump made a surprise announcement. He said he's halting joint military exercises with South Korea. NPR's Scott Horsley was there.

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SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: It was a day carefully choreographed for the cameras, from the leaders' first handshake on the red carpet outside a resort hotel through a lunch of stuffed cucumbers and sweet and sour pork. By early afternoon, when the president sat alongside the North Korean leader in an elegant wood-paneled room, Trump said he and Kim had formed a very special bond.

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TRUMP: Spent a lot of time together today - a very intensive time. And I would actually say that it worked out for both of us far better than anybody could've expected.

HORSLEY: Trump and Kim signed a joint statement that the president described as pretty comprehensive even though it's just over one-page long. In the statement, Kim reiterates his vague promise to work towards denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. There's no detail about what that means, no timetable and no indication of how disarmament might be verified. North Korea has a long history of backsliding on its nuclear promises. Trump says he believes - this time - Kim is serious about dismantling his nuclear arsenal.

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TRUMP: He was very firm in the fact that he wants to do this. I think he might want to do this as much or even more than me because they see a very bright future for North Korea.

HORSLEY: For his part, Trump promised to guarantee North Korea's security, but the statement does not say how the U.S. plans to do that. Both North Korea and China would like to see the U.S. withdraw many of its troops stationed in South Korea. Trump says he'd like that, too, though not right away.

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TRUMP: We have - right now - 32,000 soldiers in South Korea. And I'd like to be able to bring them back home, but that's not part of the equation right now. At some point, I hope it will be but not right now. We will be stopping the war games.

HORSLEY: By war games, Trump means the joint military exercises the U.S. regularly conducts with South Korea. News that the president is halting those exercises appear to catch officials in Seoul off guard even though they generally support improving ties between the U.S. and Pyongyang. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution says there's no great military loss in suspending the joint exercises with South Korea, but he warns Trump's talk about a potentially big troop drawdown sends an ominous message about the depth of America's commitment to the Asia-Pacific region.

MICHAEL O'HANLON: But it does inject a note of instability or doubt for our allies, even for other countries like China and Russia, and I don't think it's particularly constructive.

HORSLEY: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who's been tapped to lead the follow-up negotiations, is headed to Seoul and Beijing this week to explain what's happened so far. As for Kim, who's speaking here through an interpreter, he's already gotten much of what he wanted from the summit. International sanctions against North Korea have begun to weaken, and Kim now has the prestige of standing toe-to-toe on the world stage with the president of the United States.

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SUPREME LEADER KIM JONG UN: (Through interpreter) We had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind. The world will see a major change. I would like to express my gratitude to President Trump to make this meeting happen.

HORSLEY: Even those who criticized Trump's handling of the summit say talking with North Korea is preferable to exchanging threats, as the two leaders were doing last year. Trump says he looks forward to visiting Pyongyang one day, and he told reporters he would absolutely invite Kim to a follow-up summit at the White House. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Singapore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.