While world leaders welcomed Donald Trump’s historic made-for-TV meeting with Kim Jong Un on Tuesday, questions are now being asked about what it actually achieved.
Although Trump was quick to declare the summit - a meeting marked by handshakes, smiles and a tour of his beastly presidential vehicle - a success, North Korean experts have said the joint statement issued by the leaders appears to be a rehash of broken promises made by Pyongyang to successive US administrations.
Experts further suggested any lasting benefit to the US President on the world stage, or at home, now depend on whether he can turn the spectacle into tangible progress towards Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament - something much-needed after Trump left the G7 in Canada with several international relationships in tatters.
Many remained sceptical on Tuesday that Kim will ever give up his nuclear weapons, even though Trump insisted the process of denuclearisation will start “very, very quickly”.
“Unfortunately, we do not know if Kim has made a strategic decision to denuclearise and it is unclear if further negotiations will lead to the end goal of denuclearisation,” said Anthony Ruggiero, senior fellow at Washington’s Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.
“This looks like a restatement of where we left negotiations more than 10 years ago and not a major step forward.”
Trump and Kim’s joint pledge to work toward “complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula” was widely interpreted as failing to convince North Korea to accept Washington’s definition that calls for Pyongyang to get rid of its arsenal.
“There is almost nothing of significant substance - or even new - in this document. It is a list of aspirational goals,” said Evans Revere, a former US negotiator with North Korea.
“This is a win for North Korea, which seems to have yielded nothing.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however saw the meeting differently, tweeting that the US negotiating team “delivers for America’s swagger”.
Trump himself scoffed at the sceptics. “The fact that I am having a meeting is a major loss for the US, say the haters & losers,” he tweeted.
The last three US presidents secured commitments from North Korea on denuclearisation that the country later reneged on.
Although Trump insisted at a post-summit news conference that “I think he really wants to de-nuke,” the president was only able to cite a single unwritten pledge from Kim – to close a missile engine facility.
Trump said, however, that he was willing to stop joint US-South Korea military drills - a key demand from Pyongyang.
Dr John Nilsson-Wright, senior research fellow on the Asia-Pacific Programme at the Chatham House, said Trump conceded more than he secured in return from the North Korean leader.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme he said the agreement was ambiguous about what denuclearisation meant.
He added: “Donald Trump has given quite an important concession by suspending those joint exercises.”
Mintaro Oba, a former US State Department diplomat specialising in the Koreas, said the summit was more about style and symbolism.
“It looked good on camera,” Oba said, characterising the summit agreement as a “warm and fuzzy pile of generalities and old news”.
“The statement contained positions that are already well-established, (‘North Korean commitment to denuclearisation ‘of the Korean Peninsula,’ and desire to work toward a ‘peace regime’ on the peninsula,” Oba told HuffPost in an email, referring to similar promises made by Kim in April during his landmark meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Vipin Narang, an MIT professor of international relations, further noted that the language used in the agreement bears striking similarities to a US-North Korea declaration from 1993.
“Remember when they remade the movie Karate Kid 25 years later? That’s what this is,” Narang wrote on Twitter.
Analysts said the agreement was a far cry from the breakthrough that President Richard Nixon scored with his visit to communist China in 1972 that ended decades of estrangement between Washington and Beijing.
How World Leaders Reacted
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the summit was an “important step towards stability of a region vital to global economic growth and home to thousands of British Nationals and important UK interests”.
Johnson said North Korea’s commitment to work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula “is a signal that Kim Jong Un may have finally heeded the message that only a change of course can bring a secure and prosperous future to the people of North Korea”.
He added that there was still much work to be done, “and we hope Kim continues to negotiate in good faith towards complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation”.
Downing Street joined the chorus of cautious welcome to the summit from the international community.
Theresa May’s spokesman said North Korea’s commitment to denuclearisation is a signal that Pyongyang has finally heeded the message, Reuters reported.
The UK’s former ambassador to North Korea said Kim had emerged as the big winner from the summit, given Trump committed to ending war games.
Kim will hail the summit as a “great triumph”, Everard told Sky News.
“He will claim that he, his genius, his diplomatic nous have brought the president of the United States to the negotiating table. He will say, rightly enough, that he has been the first member of the dynasty to actually sit with a US president and be treated as an equal. This guy is on a roll.”
The UK’s former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, told BBC Radio 4′s World at One programme that the summit was “genuinely historic”.
Straw said: “The difference now between this and previous agreements is that these two leaders have put their own personalities and leadership positions on the line in order to secure a lasting agreement.”
Former US ambassador Kirk Wagar
Kirk Wagar, a former US ambassador to Singapore under former US President Barack Obama, told CNBC the meeting was a “very good thing”, but not a “momentous event”.
Any former US President could have gotten a one-on-one meeting with Kim, he claimed.
“The issue is, of course, is that the stated foreign policy goal for almost 30 years has been a one-on-one with meeting with the United States president to elevate their stature.”
South Korea President Moon Jae-in watched a live feed of the historic meeting from his cabinet room in Seoul, delaying his meeting by 10 minutes so he could see the handshake. When the two leaders shook hands for the first time, he smiled, pictures released by the South Korean president’s office revealed.
“I guess the attention of all our people must currently be directed toward Singapore,” he said, afterwards. Earlier he admitted to having had “a sleepless night”.
After the meeting, Jae-in released a statement calling the summit “historic” and warning that there may be “many difficulties ahead, but we will never go back to the past again”.
He said Kim will be “remembered as a leader who made a historic moment by taking the first bold step toward the world”.
“Building upon the agreement reached today, we will take a new path going forward. Leaving dark days of war and conflict behind, we will write a new chapter of peace and co-operation,” Jae-in added.
Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, praised the agreement’s references to denuclearisation.
Referring to the cold war abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean spies, he said: “I’m determined that Japan will have to directly face North Korea and resolve (the abductions) bilaterally.”
Trump said he had raised the abductions with Kim, although it wasn’t in the agreement they signed. However, he said that the North Koreans “are going to be working on that”.
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi praised the leaders for “creating a new history” in Singapore.
“The United States and North Korea have been in a state of antagonism for more than half a century. Today, that the two countries’ highest leaders can sit together and have equal talks, has important and positive meaning, and is creating a new history. China of course supports it.”
While the rest of the world enjoyed rolling coverage of the summit on 24/7 news channels and instant social media hot takes, North Korea’s state TV wasn’t on air until a few hours ago.
According to journalist Martyn Williams, a short report about Kim’s night outing in Singapore on Monday led the broadcast, however no photos or video accompanied the story.
The Rodong Sinmun newspaper splashed on Kim’s walkabout and the leader was quoted as saying: “Singapore is clean and beautiful and every building is stylish as he heard of in the past.”
As for the actual summit, Williams said: “I expect the summit sit down and signing won’t get reported until tomorrow (small chance later tonight).”