Trump’s summit military concession to Kim surprises everyone

North Korea has previously called the joint drills a “grave provocation” that could escalate the region “to the brink of nuclear war.”
by Alexander Smith /  / Updated 

When President Donald Trump agreed to pause military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea on Tuesday, he gave Kim Jong Un a concession on an issue that has angered North Korea like few others.


Pyongyang has long said it views such joint drills as preparation for an invasion.

The president’s revelation that he planned to put the “war games” on hold was part of the agreement with Kim to work “toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

“Under the circumstances that we’re negotiating a very comprehensive complete deal, I think it’s inappropriate to be having war games,” Trump told reporters.

He also described the exercises as “very provocative” and said the move would “save us a tremendous amount of money.”

The next round of the joint drills were due to be held in August.

But both the Pentagon and South Korea’s military appeared to have blindsided by Trump’s statement.

U.S. Forces Korea said it had “received no updated guidance,” and Seoul said it would need to clarify the “intention behind his comments.”

Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, suggested Trump had offered more to Kim than he needed to.

Adam Mount@ajmount

Ending US-ROK exercises is in excess of all expert consensus, South Korean requests, and even a close reading of North Korean demands. Trump thinks of vitiating the alliance as a goal, not a concession! 

Around 28,000 U.S. troops are based in South Korea. The U.S. and its allies maintain the drills are purely defensive in nature.

As well as putting the North on edge, the drills highlight the gulf between the capabilities of the South Korean military and its advanced U.S. ally, and the sizable but aging North Korean forces.

In December, joint exercises named Vigilant Ace involved some 230 planes and 12,000 U.S. military personnel in what was described as “a realistic air combat exercise.”

Pyongyang saw things differently, labeling the drills as a “grave provocation” that threatened to escalate the region “to the brink of nuclear war.”

In contrast to Tuesday’s cordial back-patting, at the time North Korean state-run media said “insane President Trump is running wild” and condemned South Korea as “puppet war maniacs.”

It was far from an isolated incident. In 2016 North Korean media threatened a “pre-emptive nuclear strike of justice” on Washington and Seoul in response to that year’s drills.

“If we push the buttons to annihilate the enemies … [they] will be reduced to seas in flames and ashes in a moment,” the North’s National Defense Commission said in a statement.

This animosity toward the American war machine stems from the Korean War, which has never officially ended despite an armistice in 1953.

While anti-American sentiment has certainly been fomented by North Korean propaganda over the years, it is based in some fact. During the Korean War, the U.S. Air Force carried out some of the most intense saturation bombing ever seen.

“The tonnage of bombs dropped on the North was about the same as the total dropped by the U.S. against Japan during World War II,” The Associated Press reported last year. “North Korea is probably second only to Cambodia as the most heavily bombed country in history.”

The U.S. dropped 635,000 tons of bombs on Korea, most of it in the North, including with 32,500 tons of napalm, the AP said.

Estimates vary, but according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, 600,000 North Korean civilians and 400,000 North Korean military personnel were killed. Add to this about a million South Korean civilians, and 200,000 South Korean, 36,500 U.S. and 600,000 Chinese military personnel.

Despite signing the statement with Kim, Trump told reporters Tuesday that reducing the number of U.S. troops in South Korea was “not part of the equation right now.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told NBC News’ “Today” that he didn’t think canceling war games would “matter over the arc of time.”

He added: “Kim comes out of this thing bigger. The U.S. comes out stronger, too.”

However, Graham added he would “violently disagree” with any proposal to remove U.S. troops from South Korea.

  • Contributors
  • Rachel Elbaum ,

Trump, Kim Begin New Phase of Diplomacy

North Korea’s promise of denuclearization has few specifics; U.S. president says military exercises will stop

Raw Footage: Highlights of Trump and Kim’s Historic Summit

After a historic summit in Singapore, President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un signed a document committing to work together for peace. Other highlights included mutual compliments, handshakes and a lunch with prawn cocktail. Photo: Getty Images

SINGAPORE—President Donald Trump won few specific new commitments from Kim Jong Un to surrender his nuclear weapons after a day of talks, but kick-started a new phase of personal diplomacy aimed at pushing the North Korean leader toward a rapid and verifiable disarmament.

In a two-page document signed by both leaders here on Tuesday, North Korea committed again to “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” while the U.S. offered unspecified security guarantees in return.

Speaking to reporters after their summit meeting, Mr. Trump said that Mr. Kim had pledged to start denuclearization “right away,” but that there hadn’t been time to codify details in Tuesday’s agreement.

Mr. Kim “might want to do this as much, or even more, than me,” Mr. Trump said. “I know when someone wants to deal and when they don’t.”

Even so, Mr. Trump added a note of caution: “I may be wrong. I may stand before you six months from now and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’”

Some of the biggest developments weren’t in the document signed by the two leaders. Mr. Trump said he would cease “tremendously expensive” and “provocative” joint military exercises with South Korea as long as productive talks continue with the North, a move he thought Mr. Kim would welcome.

Mr. Trump said that reducing the number of U.S. forces in South Korea isn’t part of the negotiation, but that he would eventually like to bring home the 28,500 U.S. troops based in South Korea to save money.

The U.S. has steadfastly refused to suspend joint military exercises in the past despite North Korean demands, and the pledge to do so is likely to unsettle Asian allies, who appeared to be taken by surprise by Mr. Trump’s statements. The Pentagon has long argued that the maneuvers, which it says are defensive in nature, are necessary to maintain the readiness of U.S. forces in South Korea.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Dana White, said in a statement that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had been consulted on the move. “The secretary and the president have been fully aligned,” Ms. White said. “They have spoken about all these issues in advance.”

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it was trying to determine the meaning of Mr. Trump’s remarks, and a senior South Korean national-security official said “nothing has changed” on the exercises. A spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea said that it had received no new guidance on joint military maneuvers, including drills planned for the fall.

The decision came as a surprise to U.S. military officers in South Korea, who were “at a loss” about what would happen next, and whether there would be a cancelation of training with the South Korean military, according to a person familiar with the matter.

U.S. and South Korean forces recently completed an ambitious series of exercises, including the Foal Eagle annual maneuvers and Max Thunder, an air drill that drew North Korean protests. The only recent concession to Pyongyang’s sensitivities was a U.S. move to shelve a training exercise with the South Korea air force involving U.S. B-52s, which was made at Seoul’s request.

In addition, Mr. Trump said Tuesday that Mr. Kim had agreed to destroy a missile-engine testing site in a concession that wasn’t part of the written agreement. Mr. Trump’s remark was likely a reference to a missile test stand in the country’s northwest that North Korea had recently razed but not announced, which 38 North, a website on North Korean affairs, said last week Pyongyang had destroyed. In the report, analyst Joseph Bermudez pointed to satellite imagery that showed the site had been used for testing solid-fueled medium-range missiles and could have been used for developing longer-range missiles.

Mr. Trump holds up a document that he signed with Mr. Kim at the Capella Hotel in Singapore on Tuesday.
Mr. Trump holds up a document that he signed with Mr. Kim at the Capella Hotel in Singapore on Tuesday. PHOTO:SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The meeting of the two leaders began on Tuesday at the Capella hotel on the Singaporean resort island of Sentosa at 9 a.m. local time. Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim sat down for a 38-minute one-on-one talk—the first between a sitting U.S. president and a leader of North Korea—with only interpreters present. From there, the two men were joined by their senior aides for two more hours of meetings before lunch. The two leaders then took a brief stroll without their aides before signing the document and shaking hands for the cameras.

Following the meeting, which Mr. Trump said had led to a personal bond, both sides pledged to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to begin high-level negotiations at the earliest possible date.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton will meet North Korean officials next week “to go over the details” of Tuesday’s agreement, Mr. Trump said.

But the document, which Mr. Trump described as “very comprehensive,” provided almost no particulars on how to come to a speedy denuclearization that was complete, verifiable and irreversible—oft-stated U.S. goals.

In many ways, the language echoed an agreement signed between North and South Korea in April in its broad aims. It didn’t codify Pyongyang’s unilateral moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, or contain any reference to sanctions relief. It made a general pledge to a security guarantee for North Korea but didn’t mention the status of U.S. military forces in South Korea.

Trump, Kim Exchange Praise at Singapore Summit

Not long ago, the U.S. and North Korean leaders were threatening each other with annihilation. But at the Singapore summit, it was all smiles and mutual appreciation between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Photo: Getty

Olivia Enos, policy analyst in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, said that the document was “incredibly vague,” and didn’t attempt to bridge the gap between the U.S. and North Korean conceptions of denuclearization.

“This seems like just another feel-good statement similar to the one signed at the inter-Korean dialogue with little to no meat on the bones of where we go from here,” Ms. Enos said.

Other experts said that the outcome at least kept the diplomatic process moving forward.

“It is not as much as many people hoped but meets the minimum standard for a useful step forward,” said Joel Wit, a former State Department official and a senior fellow at the Stimson Center.

Sung Kim, the former top U.S. envoy on North Korea’s nuclear program who led talks with the North at the inter-Korean demilitarized zone in the run-up to Tuesday’s summit, told reporters after the declaration signing that “there’s a lot of work left.”

“The two sides are committed to working intensively,” said Mr. Kim, who is the current U.S. ambassador to the Philippines.

Still, the agreement forestalls the likelihood of any immediate hostilities and sets the stage for more high-level negotiations.

The shift to dialogue is a contrast to the situation last year, when a series of North Korean weapons tests prompted increasingly bellicose language from the U.S. president. The two leaders taunted each other and threatened nuclear attack.

Messrs. Trump and Kim would “meet again…many times,” the U.S. president said, telling reporters that he would visit Pyongyang “at a certain time” and would invite Mr. Kim to visit the White House. “We’re probably going to need another summit,” he said.

The summit outcome came as an unexpected boon for China, which has long called for the U.S. and South Korea to suspend their joint military drills in exchange for North Korea freezing its nuclear weapons and missile tests.

China applauded the summit on Tuesday and sought to press its advantage, calling for the United Nations Security Council to reconsider its sanctions on Pyongyang, even though Mr. Trump said there would be no immediate easing and the U.S. holds a veto in the body.

“Sanctions are a means, not an end,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing. “We believe the Security Council should make efforts to support the current diplomatic efforts and contribute to the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue.”

Mr. Trump indicated sanctions would remain in place, saying the U.S. had “tremendous leverage” to sustain economic pressure on North Korea until it moved to get rid of nuclear arsenal and programs, but added: “I look forward to taking them off.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, after talking by phone with Mr. Trump, called the meeting a success but said it needed to be followed by swift action.

“We will seek full implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions based on the success of this historic meeting,” he told reporters late Tuesday.

When asked whether he was concerned by the lack of a specific timetable in the joint statement, Mr. Abe replied, “First of all, North Korea has clearly committed itself to complete denuclearization. The fact that Chairman Kim Jong Un has made a pledge to President Trump is extremely significant, in my view. And it is written in the joint statement that they will move forward swiftly. It is exactly as those words say: They must move forward swiftly.”

Mr. Abe didn’t discuss the halting of U.S.-South Korea war games.

While Tuesday’s agreement left no doubt that Washington and Pyongyang remain far apart on the subject of North Korea’s nuclear program, the two leaders appeared to engage in amicable conversation, patting each other on the back and taking a stroll around the hotel grounds.

Mr. Trump lauded Mr. Kim as “a very worthy, very smart negotiator” and at one point showed him his armored black Cadillac.

“We had a terrific day, and we learned a lot about each other and about our countries,” Mr. Trump said. “I learned he’s a very talented man. I also learned that he loves his country very much.”

Mr. Kim expressed his gratitude to the U.S. leader for making the summit possible, and said he wanted to “leave the past behind.” “The world will see a major change” as a result of their talks, he said.

For the North Korean leader, the Singapore summit was a public-relations coup, cementing his place on the world stage during his fourth trip abroad as leader. The night before his meeting with Mr. Trump, Mr. Kim went on a sightseeing tour of Singapore, posing for selfies with local officials and waving to curious onlookers.

Photos: Trump and Kim in Singapore for U.S.-North Korea Summit

President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un shook hands at the beginning of a summit in Singapore

President Donald Trump, left, being welcomed by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the prime minister’s residence.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump sign a joint document at the end of their summit on Tuesday.

President Donald Trump shaking hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they sit down with their respective delegations for the summit.

President Donald Trump meets with Kim Jong Un at the start of a U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore on Tuesday.

Kim Jong Un walking with President Donald Trump at the start of their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore.

A copy of Rodong Sinmun, Pyongyang’s main party newspaper, at a Pyongyang metro news stand shows images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday.

North Korean defectors Park Sang Hak, right, and Justin Kim, second from right, watch the summit on television at a motel in Leesburg, Va. Also watching are South Korean human-rights activists Do Hee Yun, pointing, and Henry Song.

President Trump and Kim Jong Un walk after a working lunch during the summit Tuesday.

Kim Jong Un posing for selfies with Singapore officials on the Jubilee Bridge in Singapore on Monday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Sunday, before his <a href="" class="icon none" >departure for Singapore</a>.

President Donald Trump blowing out a candle on a cake presented to him at lunch Monday with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Mr. Trump’s birthday is Thursday, June 14.

Cameramen preparing for the arrival of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore on Monday.

President Donald Trump’s motorcade leaving the Istana, the official residence of Singapore’s prime minister.

Onlookers waiting for President Donald Trump’s motorcade.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump sign a joint document at the end of their summit on Tuesday.
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Write to Michael R. Gordon at, Jonathan Cheng at and Michael C. Bender at


+++ North Korea meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore — live updates +++

The leaders of North Korea and the US are meeting for talks in Singapore. Read the latest updates on the historic summit at DW.

U.S. President Donald Trump sits next to North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un before their bilateral meeting at the Capella Hotel

— US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are meeting for a historic summit on Singapore’s Sentosa Island.

— They first met face to face with only translators at their sides. They were later joined by top aides for a bilateral meeting. 

— There have been smiles and handshakes all around, with both sides speaking warmly about each other.

All times in GMT/UTC

0224 Looking at who is in the group meeting, Kim has Kim Yong Chol, his most trusted policy adviser, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Ri Su Yong, the top Workers’ Party official for international affairs. On Trump’s side is National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

0209 Handshake after handshake. This time shared by Trump’s press secretary.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Sarah Sanders


.@POTUS and US Delegation start expanded bilateral meeting with Leader Kim Jong Un and North Korean Delegation.

0208 Trump’s social media manager has shared images from inside the bilateral meeting.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Dan Scavino Jr.


Bilateral meeting with respective delegations underway now! History in the making.

0200 More details on Ludlow’s heart attack. He is recovering in hospital.

0159 Trump said at the group table that he and Kim “will solve a big problem, a big dilemma.” Kim said: “We will solve it.”

0155 Trump says the meeting was “very, very good,” says they have an “excellent relationship.”

0154 The leaders have joined their colleagues for a group meeting. Trump and Kim are making comments.

0150 After about 30 minutes they have re-emerged. They are not responding to questions.

0145 The world is waiting to see what will happen from this meeting. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres earlier urged the two leaders to seize the opportunity “to support a peaceful, prosperous, secure and verifiably denuclearized Korean Peninsula.”

0142 Sarah Huckabee Sanders has shared behind the scenes images of delegates meeting.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Sarah Sanders


US Delegation greets North Korean Delegation and watches @POTUS and Leader Kim Jong Un meet for first time. cc: @SecPompeo @AmbJohnBolton

0127 Trump’s director of social media has shared an image of the second handshake. Both looking chummy.

Dan Scavino Jr.


President Trump & Chairman Kim Jong-un are currently in 1:1 bilateral meeting with their interpreters.

0112 The meeting is underway, media have left the room.

0109 Kim says they have overcome a lot of obstacles to make this meeting happen. “Old practices and prejudices worked against us but we overcame all of them and we are here today.”

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump

0108 Trump says: “We’re going to have a great discussion.” Says it will be successful and predicts a “terrific relationship.”

0105 They are heading in to a room to make public comments. Trump’s hand is on Kim’s back. All smiles.

US President Donald Trump (R) gestures as he meets with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit

0104 They have finally met and shaken hands. Normal length handshake, no apparent tugging from Trump.

0059 Trump is emerging from his car and entering the hotel doors.

0053 Kim has just exited his armored limousine and entered the hotel doors.

0038 Trump has just tweeted from the summit site that Larry Kudlow, his economic adviser, has had a heart attack. He is not part of the Singapore team, but has just returned from the G7 summit in Canada.

Donald J. Trump


Our Great Larry Kudlow, who has been working so hard on trade and the economy, has just suffered a heart attack. He is now in Walter Reed Medical Center.

0031 Kim’s motorcade has arrived. Summit is due to start in about 30 minutes.

0020 Trump has arrived at the summit site. His aides were on Twitter during the journey.

0008 And Kim Jong Un is on his way now too. A North Korean flag is flying from his limousine.

A motorcade transporting US President Donald Trump departs the Shangri-La Hotel to take him to a meeting with Kim Jong-un

0007 Trump is still busy tweeting about domestic issues, less than an hour before the meeting.

Donald J. Trump


Just won big Supreme Court decision on Voting! Great News!

0006 US President Donald Trump’s enormous motorcade has left his hotel and is heading to Sentosa Island for the meeting.



Singapore Summit Puts Kim Jong Un’s Words to the Test

North Korean leader has called for a shift away from a nuclear focus; Donald Trump will learn if that’s real

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un addressing his Workers' Party’s Central Committee April 20 in Pyongyang.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un addressing his Workers’ Party’s Central Committee April 20 in Pyongyang. PHOTO: KCNA KCNA/REUTERS

There is literally nothing in the history of the past three decades to suggest that the diplomatic dance President Donald Trump begins with North Korea on Tuesday will succeed—no hard evidence Pyongyang will give up its nuclear-weapons program, no record of North Korea’s honoring international agreements, no sign it would allow economic pressure to get in the way of military priorities.

So, as Mr. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sit down for a historic summit, the question is: Why go ahead with this process at all? Why give Mr. Kim upfront a big prize—the international legitimacy bestowed by a meeting with the American president—when there is so little reason for optimism?

The answer, say South Korean officials who have studied Mr. Kim, lies in a speech he gave on April 20 to his Workers Party’s Central Committee. Study the words closely, they say, and the young North Korean leader lays out the rationale for a profound strategic shift, away from years of obsession with nuclear development and toward a plan to escape all-encompassing economic backwardness.

A huge dose of skepticism is needed here. Still, it is important to look back closely at that April statement, for it may offer the best explanation of why U.S. and South Korean officials have decided the effort of engagement is worth the risks inherent in it.

Mr. Kim’s remarks that day were summarized in a dispatch by the Korean Central News Agency, the government mouthpiece. The agency reported that Mr. Kim told central committee members at the outset that he had convened them to decide “important matters for attaining higher goals.”

“The overall situation,” he went on, “is rapidly changing.” That’s because North Korea late last year achieved a “miraculous victory” by “completing the state nuclear force.” For the past several years, Mr. Kim said, the North Korean people had “worked hard with their belt tightened” to acquire “the powerful treasured sword” of nuclear weapons.

That mission has been ”successfully concluded,” guaranteeing that North Koreans could henceforth lead a “dignified” life, he said.

Having declared victory, Mr. Kim then made the key pivot. There is no longer any need to conduct nuclear tests, or to test-fire the intermediate- and long-range missiles needed to carry nuclear weapons, because that work “was finished.” For the same reason, he said, there was no longer a need to continue operating the North’s nuclear-test facility.

Instead, he said, North Korea now faces different “important tasks.” Specifically, he said, the “strategic line” of the ruling party henceforth would be “to concentrate all efforts of the whole party and country to the socialist economic construction.” Lest anybody miss the point, the report said, Mr. Kim suggested a new banner to mark the moment, one that proclaims, “Let us further accelerate the advance of our revolution by concentrating all our efforts on socialist economic construction!”

In short, Mr. Kim was declaring a turn toward what he called “a new strategic line”: economic development had become more important than further nuclear work.

There are, of course, several problems in deciding how much to read into those words. First, while Mr. Kim seems to be calling out a clear strategic shift, it isn’t the first time such a thing has been suggested. Truth-telling has never been a strong North Korean attribute.

The second problem is that, even if the words mean exactly what they say, it isn’t clear that a shift in emphasis from developing more nuclear arms also means willingness to give up nuclear arms already developed.

Kim Jong Un: The Rise of a Dictator

Behind the modernized façade of Pyongyang, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un rules one of the world’s most repressive states. And he has proven to be far more brutal and strategic than anticipated. Photo Illustration: David Chan

Mr. Kim is saying that North Korea has proved its point. It is now a nuclear-capable state, for all intents and purposes, and that gives his regime a whole new level of security. But is he saying that having proved nuclear capability is sufficient to provide security, or that he still needs to hold some nuclear weapons to do so?

This isn’t clear—and it is the crux of the matter. The Trump administration’s long-term demand is not merely that Mr. Kim stop his nuclear machine from moving forward, but that he throw it into reverse, disposing of nuclear devices and the capability to produce more.

It remains hard to believe that Mr. Kim will do so. But perhaps, as a younger North Korean leader educated in the West, he truly has a different view of the world and his country’s place in it than did his father or grandfather. Finding out whether the words of April 20 are literally true, or merely an artful artifice designed to win economic help, is the best rationale for the new Trump-Kim dialogue.

Write to Gerald F. Seib at


US and North Korea begin preparations for historic summit

President Donald Trump said “excitement is in the air” in Singapore ahead of his meeting with Kim Jong Un. North Korean state media heralded the summit as “a changed era” for Washington and Pyongyang.

Kim Jong Un, Vivian Balakrishnan (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Terence Tan)

Preparations for the unprecedented meeting between North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and the president of the United States, Donald Trump, in Singapore began in earnest on Monday.

The event marks the first time a sitting US president meets a North Korean leader. It is also the first time Kim Jong Un has made a journey of this kind since taking office in 2011, aside from short visits to China and the South Korean side of the border Demilitarized Zone.

Read more: Trump-Kim summit — which country has the strongest military in the region?

What we know so far:

  • The summit will be held at the Capella hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, near the port of Singapore.
  • Kim Jong Un’s delegation includes top officials such as Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, Defense Minister No Kwang Chol and close aide Kim Yong Chol.
  • Donald Trump’s delegation includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
  • As a first order of business, officials from the US and North Korean delegation held a meeting early on Monday, led by Sung Kim, a former US ambassador to South Korea and the current ambassador to the Philippines.
  • Trump has met for a working lunch with the prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong.
  • Kim and Trump are set to meet in person on Tuesday at 9 a.m. Singapore time (0100 UTC).
  • According to a US official who spoke anonymously to the AP news agency, Trump and Kim will meet one on one with translators in a session that could last up to two hours and will then bring their respective advisers into the meeting.

Read more: Is Trump’s Korea policy calculated chaos?

US: denuclearization key

The Trump administration is hoping that the summit will lead to an agreement on North Korea’s denuclearization in exchange for eased diplomatic and economic sanctions on Pyongyang.

Preparatory talks on Monday were progressing “rapidly,” according to Pompeo. At a news conference in Singapore he said the summit provided “an unprecedented opportunity to change the trajectory of our relationship and bring peace and prosperity” to North Korea.

Secretary Pompeo


Substantive and detailed meetings in today as Ambassador Kim meets with @StateDept

He stressed, however, that sanctions would remain in place and could even increase if “diplomacy does not move in the right direction.”

Crucially, he said the US was prepared to offer “unique” security guarantees but only in exchange for a “verifiable and irreversible” commitment to denuclearization.

Read more: North Korea denuclearization: Can Pyongyang be trusted?

Trump reiterated his optimism about Tuesday’s meeting at the lunch with Lee, telling the Singaporean leader, “we’ve got a very interesting meeting in particular tomorrow, and I think things can work out very nicely.”

A ‘changed era’

The North Koreans noted that the summit was being held “under the great attention and expectation of the whole world,” according to the official report of the event by state broadcaster KCNA.

The state-run agency said that both leaders would exchange “wide-ranging and profound views” on establishing a new relationship, the issue of building a “permanent and durable peace mechanism” and realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

KCNA celebrated the momentous occasion, saying that the summit marked “a changed era.”

ng,jcg/amp (dpa, Reuters, AP)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.


Russia and China Show Off Ties With Putin Visit

On the first day of a trip to China, the Russian president receives the newly created Friendship Medal

Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulates Russian President Vladimir Putin after presenting him with the Friendship Medal in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulates Russian President Vladimir Putin after presenting him with the Friendship Medal in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Russia and China have signed a raft of deals and pledged tighter coordination on security and foreign policy, underscoring how disputes with the U.S. are drawing the neighbors closer.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the first day of a three-day trip to China on Friday, and Chinese President Xi Jinping flaunted their relationship as Mr. Putin received the newly created Friendship Medal from his host in an extravagant ceremony.

“Cooperation with China is one of Russia’s top priorities and it has reached an unprecedented level,” Mr. Putin said.

Russia has increasingly looked to China for investment and as a political ally as the U.S. and its partners have piled sanctions on Moscow over its military adventures abroad and interference in Western countries.

Concerns in Beijing that President Donald Trump could forge closer ties with Mr. Putin and leave China as the odd one out among the world’s largest powers have dissipated as Washington and Moscow continue to feud. Now, Russia and China are coordinating in places of mutual interest like Iran and North Korea, presenting a united front in criticizing U.S. sanctions and tariffs, and deepening business ties.

On Friday, Russian and Chinese officials signed nuclear, space and transport deals, among others, as well as a statement condemning the Trump administration’s withdrawal from a nuclear deal with Iran and pledging further military and diplomatic cooperation.

The relationship has been buttressed by a close personal connection between the presidents. State broadcaster China Central Television aired an interview with the Russian leader on Wednesday in which he recalled celebrating a birthday with Mr. Xi over shots of vodka and sliced sausage.

“I haven’t established this kind of relationship or made similar arrangements with my foreign colleagues, but I have with Chairman Xi,” Mr. Putin said in the interview.

CCTV inserted the birthday comments in an online video entitled “A Kind of Internet Star Called Putin,” that also featured shots of him playing piano, strutting past applauding crowds and meeting—repeatedly—with Mr. Xi.

The Chinese leader, who recently engineered a scrapping of presidential term limits in China’s constitution, has said he and Mr. Putin are “similar in character.” He was quick to call with congratulations after the Mr. Putin rode a landslide election victory to his fourth term in March.

“Together we’ve ensured that Sino-Russian relations have withstood the test of global uncertainty and arrived at their best point in history,” he told Mr. Putin.

China has plowed billions into Russian companies owned by the Kremlin or people close to Mr. Putin, providing Russia with some relief from Western sanctions. But the economic relationship is an unbalanced one; aside from hydrocarbons and weapons, China imports little from Russia.

Chinese leaders continue to see Russia as a vital counterbalance to the U.S. in Asia and elsewhere, analysts say, especially after the U.S. national security strategy labeled them as America’s top adversaries.

Russia and China have increased military cooperation in recent years, holding joint drills in the North Pacific and the Baltic Sea last year.

“Russia increasingly plays on team China as a junior partner,” said Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russia-China relations at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Russia is punching above its weight in geopolitics and doing things that the Chinese are not capable or daring enough to do.”


From ‘Punk Kid’ to 21st Century Tyrant: Kim Jong Un Seizes His Moment

Kim Jong Un: The Rise of a Dictator

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Behind the modernized façade of Pyongyang, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un rules one of the world’s most repressive states. And he has proven to be far more brutal and strategic than anticipated. Photo Illustration: David Chan

North Korean dictator goes on a diplomatic blitz after saber-rattling won him a coveted nuclear summit with President Donald Trump

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  • If North Korea’s propaganda machine is to be believed, “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong Un comes from a long line of mythical heroes.

    His grandfather was the greatest genius ever to have walked the Earth. His father was a prodigy in all areas, proving himself a crack pistol shot—on horseback—by age 5.

    So International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach was pleasantly surprised during a March meeting in Pyongyang when the North Korean dictator broke the ice with a self-effacing remark about his own diminutive size and portly physique.

    “Even if it may not look like it, I love to play sport, and especially basketball,” Mr. Bach, a former Olympic fencer, says Mr. Kim told him.

    Kim Jong Un cries as his father, North Korea's late leader Kim Jong-il, lies in state in December, 2011.
    Kim Jong Un cries as his father, North Korea’s late leader Kim Jong-il, lies in state in December, 2011. PHOTO:REUTERS/KCNA

    Mr. Kim has a way of overturning expectations. When he inherited power in North Korea in December 2011, expert opinion was he’d be toppled or killed within a year. Filmed red-faced and sobbing at his father’s wake, the pudgy would-be dictator in his late 20s didn’t seem up to the Darwinian task of extending the bloody Kim dynasty to a third generation.

    Six years on, he is a bona fide 21st century tyrant prepping for planned June 12 meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump —a summit Mr. Kim’s father and grandfather only dreamed about. Along the way, he acquired intercontinental ballistic missiles faster than many scientists thought possible, and threatened to use them on U.S. cities during a harrowing nuclear standoff.

    At home, he is digging in for a long rule by replacing older apparatchiks with younger ones loyal to him. He has killed rival family members, staged public executions and is keeping some 100,000 people in gulags, say United Nations investigators who accused him of crimes against humanity in 2014. He’s had more defense ministers so far than served in all North Korea’s previous 50 years.

    Once seen as a sadistic recluse who lacked the confidence to meet a single foreign leader during his first six years in power, Mr. Kim is now on a diplomacy blitz. Since March, he has met twice with both the president of South Korea and China’s leader and proposed a summit with Mr. Trump—all while gaining a reputation as a sure-footed host who toasts guests with fine wines and softens his fearsome reputation with humor.

    Kim Jong Un met with then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, China’s president Xi Jinping, and K-Pop band Red Velvet in the past three months. PHOTOS: KCNA/ASSOCIATED PRESS; SOUTH KOREA PRESIDENTIAL BLUE HOUSE/YONHAP VIA AP; WHITE HOUSE VIA AP; XINHUA VIA AP

    While the North Korea nuclear crisis is still unfolding and Mr. Kim’s future is far from certain, the man Mr. Trump is gearing up to meet has turned out to be a far-more-calculating, brutal and ambitious operator than was once believed, raising the challenges for Washington in the years ahead.

    “People who have assumed for years that he was some punk kid with a real mean streak put in a position of power are now finding out that he has a lot more capabilities than that,” says Ken Gause, who follows North Korea’s leadership at CNA, an Arlington, Va., think tank.

    IOC head Mr. Bach’s encounter with Mr. Kim at a sports complex in Pyongyang came just days after the dictator had traveled by armored train to Beijing to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and just before his secret Easter weekend meeting with now U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

    After a private conversation in which Mr. Kim spoke without notes or aides, the North Korean ruler led Mr. Bach into a stadium where some 100,000 North Koreans were awaiting a women’s soccer game. The huge crowd applauded Mr. Kim’s arrival for what seemed like 15 minutes before the game began, an official there said.

    Mr. Kim ended the week with a concert by visiting South Korean K-Pop musicians.

    With his hair slicked into an anvil-like pompadour, Mr. Kim now appears at least a decade older than he is, and so much like a propaganda poster of his late grandfather Kim Il Sung, worshiped as North Korea’s founder, that some observers suspect he had plastic surgery for that purpose.

    Former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung inspects troops in 1983 (left); current leader Kim Jong Un during a military visit in 2016 (right). PHOTOS: KCNA/ASSOCIATED PRESS; KCNA/REUTERS

    U.S. intelligence officials concede they lacked a full picture of Mr. Kim, the obscure third son of Kim Jong Il, when he emerged as successor. Perhaps more important, Mr. Kim is evolving on the job, these officials said. They describe his string of diplomatic meetings in the run-up to the possible Trump summit as the “paragon” of strategic foreign-affairs planning.

    In the meetings, Mr. Kim is tailoring his posture for effect, seeking to play the interests of China, South Korea and the U.S. against each other to his advantage, says Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Jung H. Pak, a former Central Intelligence Agency senior analyst for North Korea.

    In late March, when Mr. Kim went by train to China to improve ties with its leader Xi Jinping, a linchpin for sanctions enforcement, Mr. Kim was filmed taking notes like a schoolboy as Mr. Xi lectured.

    Mr. Pompeo said his meeting with Mr. Kim a few days later was “productive” and a sign that there is “a real opportunity” for a historic disarmament deal.

    In South Korea, where Mr. Kim is often portrayed as a bloodthirsty delinquent, he smiled, clasped President Moon Jae-in’s hand and promised an era of peace during their live April summit. Mr. Kim even vowed to reset North Korea’s clocks to normal Korea time after turning them back 30 minutes in 2015.

    RIsing in the Polls

    South Koreans are warming up to the dictator to their north.

    MBC poll on April 29-30

    Is Kim Jong Un trustworthy?


    Not really/not at all




    Don’t know/no comment

    Gallup Korea poll

    Approval rating of Kim Jong Un




    April 27:

    Inter-Korea summit









    Sources: MBC telephone poll of 1,023 adults conducted on April 29-30; margin of error: +/-3.1 percentage points (top); Gallup Korea telephone poll of about 1,000 adults; margin of error: +/-3.1 percentage points (bottom)

    After the summit, 78% of South Korean respondents said they now viewed Mr. Kim positively, according to a poll by South Korea’s MBC News, compared with approval ratings of as low as 10% in previous polls. “Once we start talking, the U.S. will see I am not the kind of person to launch nukes,” Mr. Kim told Mr. Moon, South Korea said.

    Trump administration officials credit tough economic sanctions and the threat of U.S. military strikes with pressuring Mr. Kim to come to the negotiating table, raising hopes for nuclear detente and a peace treaty to end the 1950-1953 Korean War.

    “He is very young, so he presumably wants to be around for a long time and maybe wants to, you know, have some kind of different future for his country,” said Susan Thornton, an East Asia expert who serves as Acting Assistant Secretary of State.

    South Korean conservatives and U.S. hawks say Mr. Kim has no intention of giving up his weapons, a move he likely equates with suicide. Instead, his charm offensive is meant to reduce the chances the U.S. will attack, convince China to loosen sanctions enforcement and convince South Korea’s progressive government to provide him with food and other aid.

    Long-term, he wants to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea, and perhaps one day unify the Korean Peninsula on his terms, these skeptics say.

    U.S. officials say they are wary. “No one in the Trump administration is starry-eyed about what’s happening here,” National Security Advisor John Bolton, a longtime North Korea hard-liner, has said.

    North Korea has broken four nuclear deals since 1992, while receiving $1.3 billion in food and oil from the U.S.

    Getting a read on Mr. Kim is difficult because North Korea is the arguably the world’s most secretive nation, all but cut off from global phone lines and internet, and obscured behind a kaleidoscope of propaganda.

    North Korea kept the death of Mr. Kim’s father Kim Jong Il a secret for two full days without the U.S. or South Korean intelligence services figuring it out. Even the younger Mr. Kim’s birth year—believed to be 1984—is unconfirmed.

    The North Korean capital of Pyongyang has received a makeover in recent years.
    The North Korean capital of Pyongyang has received a makeover in recent years. PHOTO: PAOLO BOSONIN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

    Pyongyang is a city of pastel buildings, huge Kim murals and towering Kim statues. Propaganda music and speeches echo from outdoor speakers. Tourists, businesspeople and journalists who travel there on closely monitored trips see only fragments but never the big picture.

    But the capital is changing under Mr. Kim. In his recent visit, Mr. Bach saw a city that appeared more polished and vibrant than what he remembered from a previous visit two decades before. Once gray and drab, the city now features newer buildings. Passersby appeared better dressed, wearing more colors, he said. Where officials once read prepared statements to him, they now spoke extemporaneously.

    “You get a glimpse,” Mr. Bach said.

    In the absence of data, some researchers turn to history for insights. Like all tyrants, going back to the fourth century B.C. tyrant of Syracuse who lived under the proverbial Sword of Damocles, Mr. Kim rules with the knowledge he may be killed at any moment, many experts believe.

    Others search for clues in sources like the video of Mr. Kim’s April meeting with South Korea’s president: Mr. Kim seemed winded after strutting across the DMZ-line. Was he nervous or out of shape?

    South Korean envoys who visited him in February told reporters he appeared “relaxed” and “confident,” jokingly apologizing for waking up South Korea’s president with crack-of-dawn missile tests, and musing about his reputation as a global pariah.

    Others are repulsed by the idea that Mr. Kim is anything more than a psychopath.

    “People are going to see him and say, ‘Wow, he is acting like a normal person.’ But he is not a normal person. This is the guy who kills his own family,” said Go Myong-hyun, a North Korea researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

    Tightened BorderFewer North Korean defectors are reachingSouth Korea since Kim Jong Un took power in2011.Source: Ministry of UnificationNote: 2017 figure is provisional.

    To instill fear, Mr. Kim uses brutal practices such as public executions with antiaircraft guns and imprisoning three generations of a dissenter’s family, according to Greg Scarlatoiu, who runs the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

    “This is a highly paranoid regime built on an us-versus-them mentality, where the Kims truly fear their own people,” said Mr. Scarlatoiu, who grew up under Romania’s brutal dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

    Mr. Kim threatened terrorist attacks to prevent Sony Pictures from releasing the 2014 film “The Interview,” in which he is killed by buffoonish reporters. Soon after, hackers broke into Sony’s servers and put embarrassing internal email and unreleased films online. U.S. officials say North Korea is responsible.

    “He spent six years pushing the envelope without any punishment,” said Ms. Pak, the former CIA analyst. “Once your confidence grows and failure is not in your vocabulary, your ambitions evolve.”

    Educated under an alias at posh Swiss schools, the Chicago Bulls-loving youngest son of Kim Jong Il and a Japanese-born dancer was a surprise choice to outsiders. His existence wasn’t even mentioned in state media until 2010.

    Though he’d been dressed up as a general as a little boy, Mr. Kim hardly seemed to have the résumé to run a tyrannical regime. While North Koreans starved, the Kims dined on imported sushi, shark fin soup and delicacies including Uzbec caviar, according to Kenji Fujimoto, the alias of a Japanese sushi chef who worked for the Kims.

    At 13, Mr. Kim started smoking Yves Saint Laurent menthol cigarettes, among the world’s most expensive at $55 a pack, Mr. Fujimoto said in a televised interview. Mr. Kim told Mr. Bach that he had visited the Olympic museum in Lausanne, Switzerland twice as a boy.

    Meantime, North Korea was a mess. Founded as Soviet-backed satellite after World War II, the isolated nation was struggling to emerge from a famine that had killed around 1 million in the 1990s.

    The Kims held power through the brutal enforcement of a family personality cult, even though average North Koreans who survived the famine were becoming aware that life was better elsewhere thanks to surging defections.

    Mr. Kim’s overseas schooling may have afforded him some advantages. He has seen far more of the West than his father, and may speak some German and English.

    Western experts believed Mr. Kim would rule as a weak figurehead under the care of a regent, his uncle-by-marriage, and powerful generals.

    But more than his father, Mr. Kim has shown a willingness to kill family.

    In 2013, he ordered the execution of his uncle, leaving little question who was in charge.

    In 2017, Mr. Kim ordered his half-brother and critic, Kim Jong Nam, killed with VX nerve agent in a Malaysian airport, U.S. officials say. The victim carried atropine, a possible VX antidote, suggesting he lived in fear of a foretold fate.

    In five years Mr. Kim executed or purged some 340 officials, according to South Korea’s intelligence service.

    “At first we were all perplexed why he was chosen,” says Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “But then we realized that he is an efficient, rational, Machiavellian dictator, and only an efficient, rational, Machiavellian dictator can rule North Korea, otherwise it will collapse.”

    Cameras rolled as Jang Song Thaek, center, uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was grabbed during an emergency central-committee meeting. He was soon executed.
    Cameras rolled as Jang Song Thaek, center, uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was grabbed during an emergency central-committee meeting. He was soon executed. PHOTO: AHN YOUNG-JOON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

    One month before Mr. Kim took office, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who had dismantled his own nuclear program in 2003 under U.S. pressure, was killed by a NATO-backed insurgency.

    To avoid a similar fate, Mr. Kim began a policy of byungjin, a two-pronged strategy of “irreversibly” completing the nuclear program to deter foreign intervention, while reviving the economy to bolster his legitimacy, observers say.

    To improve food supply, Mr. Kim de-collectivized some farms and allowed black-market trading in food and other goods to flourish.

    To raise living standards for loyal elites, he imported some $2 billion of luxury goods including whiskey and electronics in his first three years, according to Chinese trade data. He built attractions such as a water park, dolphin show and a ski resort.

    Though the measures helped achieve 4% growth, they have also made North Korea more vulnerable to economic sanctions.

    North Koreans watch a dolphin performance in Pyongyang.
    North Koreans watch a dolphin performance in Pyongyang. PHOTO: VINCENT YU/ASSOCIATED PRESS

    North Korea had wanted nuclear weapons for 60 years when Mr. Kim took power, but managed to detonate only two embarrassingly low-yield bombs.

    A crucial sign Mr. Kim was serious about completing the task came just four months into his rule, when he ripped up a “Leap Day” disarmament deal to receive food aid he’d agreed to two weeks earlier. Instead, he declared he would launch a rocket into space—a key step toward building a ballistic missile.

    It didn’t go well. The rocket broke up after 90 seconds and splashed into the ocean west of Seoul. Mr. Kim, who had invited the foreign press to view the launchpad, had failed publicly.

    Instead of covering up the mishap at home, as many foreign observers expected, Mr. Kim allowed his state media to report the mishap. He admitted the failure and encouraged his scientists to keep trying.

    Nuclear States

    North Korea has joined the small club of nations with nuclear weapons.

    Estimated nuclear warheads* per country

    As of May 2018

















    North Korea


    * Total inventory, which Includes warheads in the military stockpile as well as retired, but still intact, warheads awaiting dismantlement

    Source: Federation of American Scientists

    “It showed the more modern, flexible management style that you need for innovation, the difference between a system where everyone is afraid of failure, and one where you learn from your mistakes, fix it and get better,” said John Delury, an expert on North Korea at Yonsei University in Seoul who is writing a book about the Kims.

    One month later, Mr. Kim added the term “Nuclear State” to the definition of North Korea in its constitution. By the end of that year, the North Korean missile engineers were ready to attempt to launch the rocket again—and it worked.

    In Sept., he detonated North Korea’s most powerful nuclear device. In Nov. 2017, North Korea launched the Hwasong-15, an intercontinental missile that flew for 53 minutes with a range of 8,000 miles—enough to hit anywhere in the U.S. Though doubts remain, Mr. Kim declared he had a achieved a “state nuclear force.”

    “Our Republic has at last come to possess a powerful and reliable war deterrent, which no force and nothing can reverse,” Mr. Kim said his annual January speech, wearing a business suit instead of a Mao outfit. “The nuclear button is on my office desk all the time.”

    Then he offered to deal.