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world DENUCLEARISATION SUMMIT

'We'll meet again" – Trump, Kim hold historic denuclearisation summit

US president agrees to end military exercises with Seoul; North Korean leader agrees to 'complete denuclearisation of Korean penisula'

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US President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in Singapore.
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in Singapore. Foto:AP-Evan Vucci

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Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un hailed their historic summit Tuesday as a breakthrough in relations between Cold War foes, but the agreement they produced contained few details about the key issue of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.

The extraordinary and unprecedented encounter in Singapore saw the leader of the world's most powerful democracy shake hands with the third generation scion of a dynastic dictatorship, standing as equals in front of their nations' flags.

Kim agreed to the "complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula", a stock phrase favoured by Pyongyang that stopped short of long-standing US demands for North Korea to give up its atomic arsenal in a "verifiable" and "irreversible" way.

And in a blockbusting press conference after the summit, Trump said the US would halt military exercises with Seoul – something long sought by Pyongyang, which claims the drills are a rehearsal for invasion.

With Pyongyang having declared a moratorium on weapons testing on the grounds its development programmes were complete, the move looked like a tacit acceptance of the "freeze for freeze" proposal pushed by Beijing and previously decried by Washington.

The US stations around 30,000 troops in security ally South Korea to protect it from its neighbour, which invaded in 1950 in an attempt to reunify the peninsula by force.

"We will be stopping the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money," Trump told reporters, adding that "at some point" he wanted to withdraw US troops from the South.

Both Seoul and US military commanders in the South indicated they had no idea the announcement was coming, and analysts expressed immediate concern.

Ending the drills "is in excess of all expert consensus, South Korean requests, and even a close reading of North Korean demands," said Adam Mount of the Federation of American Scientists.

All smiles

The Singapore summit was a potentially legacy-defining meeting for both men – comparable to president Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China, or Ronald Reagan's 1986 summit with Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik.

But many agreements have been made in the past with North Korea that have later fallen apart, and ahead of the meeting, critics expressed concerns that it risked being more about headlines than substantive progress.

It also legitimised Kim, whose regime stands accused of widespread human rights abuses, critics charged.

In the event, the two leaders showered each other with compliments in the sumptuous setting of a luxury Singapore hotel, a marked contrast from their previous rounds of mutual insults, such as "mentally deranged" and "little rocket man."

Trump said he had formed a "special bond" with Kim, whom he described as "very talented". As well as abuses at home, Kim is also suspected of ordering the assassination of his brother at a Malaysian airport last year.

After a day filled with smiles and handshakes watched around the world, the US "committed to provide security guarantees" to North Korea, while Pyongyang committed to "work toward" denuclearising the Korean peninsula.

Melissa Hanham of the US-based Center for Nonproliferation Studies said on Twitter that North Korea had "already promised to do this many times," adding the two sides "still don't agree on what 'denuclearisation' means."

Asked about the issue – the crux of the summit – Trump said it would begin "very, very quickly," but gave no concrete details. He acknowledged that denuclearisation won't happen overnight, but said, "once you start the process it means it's pretty much over."

North Korea is believed to possess more than 50 nuclear warheads, with its atomic program spread across more than 100 sites constructed over decades to evade international inspections. Trump insisted that strong verification of denuclearisation would be included in a final agreement, saying it was a detail his team would begin sorting out with the North Koreans next week.

Trump also said he'd obtained a separate concession from Kim to demolish a missile engine testing site, though it was just one site of many connected to the nuclear programme.

US sanctions would remain in place until Washington had seen progress, he added, before flying out of Singapore bound for the US territory of Guam – toward which Pyongyang had last year threatened to lob missiles.

We'll meet again

"We'll meet again," Trump said after the signing ceremony, standing with Kim on the verandah where they first met. "We will meet many times."

He "absolutely" would be willing to invite Kim to the White House, and would do so when the time was right, he added.

For his part, Kim – who made headlines the evening before the summit with an nighttime visit to major tourist sites – said the two Cold War foes had vowed to "leave the past behind", pledging "the world will see a major change."

Aware that the eyes of the world were on a moment many people never expected to see, Kim said many of those watching would think it was a scene from a "science fiction movie."

Critics of the summit leapt at the leaders' handshake and the moonlight stroll Kim took Monday night along the glittering Singapore waterfront, saying it was further evidence that Trump was helping legitimise Kim on the world stage.

"It's a huge win for Kim Jong-un, who now — if nothing else — has the prestige and propaganda coup of meeting one-on-one with the president, while armed with a nuclear deterrent," said Michael Kovrig, a northeast Asia specialist at the International Crisis Group in Washington.

Abraham Denmark of the Wilson Center in Washington tweeted: "It seems Kim got a huge propaganda win and a metric ton of legitimacy, and the US gave up joint exercises, for little new and nothing in return."

But he added: "The silver lining is that dialogue will continue, and where there is diplomacy there is hope."

- AFP

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