SEOUL—North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat, nor is it the “biggest and most dangerous problem” for the United States, President Donald Trump said on Wednesday, June 13, on his return from a summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The summit was the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader and followed a flurry of North Korean nuclear and missile tests and angry exchanges between Trump and Kim last year that fueled fears of war.
“Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Trump said on Twitter.
“There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!”
Just landed – a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
On Tuesday, Trump told a news conference after the summit that he would like to lift sanctions against the North but that this would not happen immediately.
North Korean state media lauded the summit as a resounding success, saying Trump expressed his intention to halt U.S.-South Korea military exercises, offer security guarantees to the North and lift sanctions against it as relations improve.
Kim and Trump invited each other to their respective countries and both leaders “gladly accepted,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
“Kim Jong Un and Trump had the 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 said.
Trump said the United States would stop military exercises with South Korea while North Korea negotiated on denuclearization.
“We save a fortune by not doing war games, as long as we are negotiating in good faith – which both sides are!” he said on Twitter.
There was some confusion over precisely what military cooperation with South Korea Trump had promised to halt.
The U.S.-South Korean exercise calendar hits a high point every year with the Foal Eagle and Max Thunder drills, which both wrapped up last month. Another major exercise is due in August.
The United States maintains about 28,500 soldiers in South Korea, which remains in a technical state of war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce not a peace treaty.
Trump’s announcement on the exercises was a surprise even to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, who has worked in recent months to help bring about the Trump-Kim summit.
Asked about Trump’s comments, South Korean presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters there was a need to seek measures that would help improve engagement with North Korea but it was also necessary to confirm exactly what Trump had meant.
Moon will be chairing a national security meeting on Thursday to discuss the summit.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is to lead the U.S. side in talks with North Korea to implement outcomes of the summit, arrived in South Korea on Wednesday, to be greeted by General Vincent Brooks, the top U.S. commander in South Korea, and U.S. Charge d’Affaires Marc Knapper.
Pompeo had a meeting with Brooks before heading to Seoul, according to a pool report. He is set to meet Moon on Thursday and hold a three-way meeting with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.
On Tuesday, just after Trump’s surprise announcement, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea said they had not received any instruction to cease joint military drills.
Although the Pentagon said Defence Secretary Jim Mattis was consulted, current and former U.S. defense officials expressed concern at the possibility the United States would halt the exercises without an explicit concession from North Korea lowering the threat.
Japan’s Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera said that, while North Korea had pledged denuclearization, no concrete steps had been taken and Japan would not let down its guard.
“We see U.S.-South Korean joint exercises and the U.S. military presence in South Korea as vital to security in East Asia,” Onodera told reporters. “It is up to the U.S. and South Korea to decide about their joint exercises. We have no intention of changing our joint drills with the U.S.”
Japan would only start shouldering the costs of North Korea’s denuclearization after the International Atomic Energy Agency restarts inspections, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
By Christine Kim