But critics are warning that the U.S. president may be giving away too much.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday said that the U.S. has agreed to halt military exercises in South Korea as part of larger denuclearization talks with North Korea — apparently catching the South Korean government and military by surprise and drawing criticism that Trump was giving away too much for little in return.
Trump made his remarks several hours after he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a ceremony to sign a joint statement in which Kim vowed to eventually give up his nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees from the United States. But the one-page document contained few specifics on how that goal would be achieved.
At a news conference shortly after the document was signed, Trump offered up a few details. He said that the U.S. would put an end to what he called “war games,” a term for the joint military exercises preferred by the Pyongyang regime, which characterizes them as rehearsals for invasion.
Trump argued that the joint military exercises with South Korea were “very provocative” and complained that Seoul doesn’t foot enough of the bill. And he mentioned that the exercises require U.S. bombers to fly in six-and-a-half hours from Guam, where they are stationed.
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, voiced concern that Trump had offered up “troubling” statements after his meeting with Kim.
“Unfortunate @realDonaldTrump spoke of US-RoK exercises as provocative war games. Also troubling he spoke of removing US troops w/o reference to reducing NK conventional mil threat,” Haass tweeted. “And suggestions he did not inform RoK govt in advance, if true, would be latest blow to an ally.”
That the U.S. might halt joint military exercises with South Korea appeared to catch Seoul somewhat off guard, with the South Korean defense ministry saying that it would need to understand the “exact meaning and intent” of Trump’s statements Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.
American forces in South Korea, too, said they had not received updated orders, according to the AP, and would continue to work with South Korean partners towards military exercises until it hears differently from the Pentagon or U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
Critics were quick to point out that agreement, in its current form, included no guardrails to verify how or when North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons.
Trump said verification would be “achieved by having a lot of people there,” including both American and international monitors. The president did concede that the full denuclearization of the authoritarian state would be a lengthy process, but insisted that beginning that process would be a significant step.
Trump indicated that economic sanctions against North Korea will remain in place for the time being. He also said that he and Kim had discussed human rights during their meeting — though no mention of those violations, or any concessions on them showed up in the final agreement.
During the news conference and summit on Tuesday, Trump kept flattering Kim and even called the totalitarian leader “talented” and a “very smart, a very good negotiator.” That trail of goodwill ran throughout the day, as Trump said he would like to visit Pyongyang and similarly wanted Kim to come to the White House. Trump said Tuesday that he would invite Kim “at the appropriate time” to come to the White House and that the North Korean leader had already accepted the invitation.
In a one-on-one interview Tuesday with Voice of America, Trump heaped more praise on Kim, telling interviewer Greta Van Susteren that Kim has a “great personality,” is a “funny guy,” “very smart” and “a great negotiator.”
Asked what he would say to North Koreans, whose access to foreign media is tightly restricted but could hear the president on a Voice of America broadcast, Trump said of Kim, “I think you have somebody that has a great feeling for them. He wants to do right by them and we got along really well. We had a great chemistry… Great things are going to happen for North Korea.”
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