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Rapp-Hooper writes: "Here are three takeaways from the much-anticipated meeting."

President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shake hands after signing documents during a summit at the Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, Singapore, June 12, 2018. (photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shake hands after signing documents during a summit at the Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, Singapore, June 12, 2018. (photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The Singapore Summit's Three Big Takeaways

By Mira Rapp-Hooper, The Washington Post

12 June 18


t was like prom for Asia security watchers. The surprise invitation came out of the blue and was accepted, seemingly on a whim.

The Singapore summit quickly became the will-they-or-won’t-they event of the season, quite nearly derailed in fits of pique, saved only by an emotional exchange of letters. With abundant pageantry that kept experts glued to the coverage throughout the night, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un finally shook hands on Sentosa Island — the first presidential-level meeting between an American leader and his North Korean counterpart, with the U.S. Stars and Stripes flying alongside the flag of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Here are three takeaways from the much-anticipated meeting.

The two sides didn’t agree on what “denuclearization” meant — but maybe that allowed them to talk.

Months before Trump and Kim met in Singapore, experts began to call attention to a festering bilateral issue: The two sides did not share the same definition of “denuclearization,” despite the fact that this was the subject of the summit.

U.S. officials appeared to be calling for the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (or as experts refer to it, CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program — unilateral disarmament. North Koreans referred obliquely to the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” which would include an end to the U.S.-South Korea alliance and removal of U.S. troops from the peninsula — removing that threat from North Korea’s doorstep.

Paradoxically, failing to clearly define the talks’ objective was what allowed diplomacy to proceed, because each side could believe — or say it believed — that its objectives were in sight.

That approach to denuclearization hit a speed-bump when Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, called for Pyongyang’s “Libya-style” disarmament — the type of unilateral nuclear defanging that preceded Moammar Gaddafi’s ouster and bloody demise. The summit was briefly canceled after the Bolton fracas; when it was rescheduled, neither side again attempted a clear “denuclearization” definition.

The week before the summit, the Trump administration still did not have an internal working definition. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested a phrasing that combined the U.S. and North Korean interpretations. The U.S. side had still not secured a substantive pledge from North Korea to denuclearize on the eve of the talks. The joint statement reportedly commits the parties to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” — a phrase that elides both interpretations without clarifying objectives. Definitional vagaries allowed Washington and Pyongyang to get to the summit despite the odds, and to slip out of it without concrete progress on the central goal.

The loophole remains big enough for a road-mobile ICBM.

There’s no substitute for a good national security process. 

The Singapore summit was a real-time test of a general Trumpian foreign policy hypothesis: By functioning in a highly unpredictable manner, could the president cow allies and adversaries alike, wresting U.S. advantage from chaos?

From the impulsive decision to accept the invitation of a nuclear-armed pariah dictator with no prior diplomatic process, to the dizzying nature of the preparations, even senior White House staff were skeptical whether the summit could be properly executed.

After the summit was called off and rescheduled, the administration tapped three veteran Asia experts to negotiate directly with the North Koreans in hopes of crafting a quick framework agreement. That’s the usual process for summit diplomacy: Go in with an agreement loosely in place so that the leaders can show up for the handshake and photo ops.

But the White House did not give the team the political backing needed to extract concessions, and the team did not include any arms control or nuclear experts. The National Security Council, the primary decision-making body of senior U.S. security officials, did not convene once in advance of the summit, suggesting the president had received little guidance or backing from top aides. Just hours before it began, leaders from each side still did not have complete agendas.

The U.S. president may wear his lack of preparation as a badge of honor, but one can’t help but wonder: If expert negotiators had been given more than two weeks, might they have been able to secure some modest but concrete concessions? With time, resources and political backing, could they have delivered meaningful caps on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs through serious arms control negotiations? Real diplomatic opportunities may have been lost in the pandemonium.

Trump moved the goal posts to proclaim his own victory — and gave one to Kim. 

For many weeks, it seemed that the Trump administration was setting its summit objectives impossibly high: Nothing short of full denuclearization, accomplished in one sitting.

After Bolton’s “Libya model” gaffe, however, the U.S. side began to dilute its objectives. What was once a one-shot meeting became the beginning of a process; the objective of unilateral disarmament was transformed into a mission of building relationships. The president emphasized the importance of establishing chemistry and building bilateral ties, making it clear that he craved a positive interpersonal interaction. He even mitigated his own hyperbole, reducing his prediction of a “terrific” outcome to only a “modified success.”

Personal diplomacy can be useful in its own right, allowing leaders to collect intelligence and divine intentions. But scored on the metrics that Trump and his team had originally laid out, the Singapore summit should have kicked off a process that could result in an arms control regime more rigorous than the Iran nuclear deal.

While redefining victory, the U.S. president handed a victory to his North Korean counterpart. Kim’s father and grandfather yearned for presidential-level meetings. Trump offered Kim precisely that chance to meet on equal footing. Kim kept the summit on track when it was nearly doomed, bolstering his domestic and international legitimacy. In the process, he made no meaningful concessions and won the cancellation of U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

Meanwhile, China and South Korea are already easing up on economic sanctions. The multilateral nature of those sanctions helped bring North Korea to the table. With Trump increasingly isolated from the United States’ traditional allies, it will be difficult for him to muster the coordinated international political will to keep that pressure on.

The upshot of all this? A grandiose spectacle with few concrete commitments. Diplomacy-as-usual may be less entertaining than the past three months’ of anticipation and pageantry. If the United States ever hopes to contain the threats posed by North Korea, however, bread-and-butter diplomatic efforts will need to come next. your social media marketing partner


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-12 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-06-12 13:39
THis article is just Wapo sore loserism. It has been against any peace progress in Korea for many years. This article is all negative. The Wapo is disgusting. What Trump and Kim did was an unqualified good and it was historic. It is only the beginning but is how all things get done -- from the beginning.

We all know what "denuclearizati on" means. Only the fuckwads at the think tanks who talk nonsense like " complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (or as experts refer to it, CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program." This is only a buzzword from idiots. N. Koerea knows how to build a bomb. That knowledge will never end. It is irreversible.

There is no reason for N. Korea to unilaterally disamr. Maybe the US should unilaterally disarm. That would be good for the entire world, and for Americans.

The Wapo is disgusting. It cannot see a good thing when it happens. Sore loserism. The Wapo and Hillary. They both need to go.
+7 # GRCS 2018-06-12 17:00
Sir, you totally forget Un’s and Trump’s past actions. Either one cannot be trusted. This MAY be a start towards peace, but the “agreement” is so full of holes all it comprises at the moment is nebulous promises, AKA air and no substance.

To give my country and the other G7 members the finger because he is an arrogantly ignorant spoiled brat does not a respected diplomat or leader make. This soooo smacks of self-aggrandizi ng self-absorption on Trump’s part that the only people who accept it at face value are those with little world knowledge, little historical knowledge, and little to none critical thinking skills,
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-06-12 18:30
GRCS -- actually, I think N. Korea can be trusted. They made a deal with Clinton in the 90s to discontinue their nuke program and they did. Bush violated that deal and broke it in about 2003. He called N. Korea part of the Axis of Evil and promised regime change, so they started the nuke program again. But NK kept up its side.

For obvious reasons, NK really does not want war and it wants to be allowed by the US to be a part of the international community and trade with anyone. It will do whatever is needed to achieve that.

The models of Libya, Iran, and many others show that the US cannot be trsuted. I'm pretty sure that the defense establishemnt, including the so-called professional diplomats, the think tankers and the weapons makers will sabotage Trump's outreach. He won't be allowed to de-escalate or to stop war games in S. Korea.

Trump's naive and intuitive approach to Kim is refreshing and good. THat is what is needed in the world know. That's why I am so down on the Wapo. It does not want any change at all. It is the CIA's newspaper and it wants war and US empire.

Trump should be congratulated for what he did. He will be sabotaged and the US part in this will evaporate, but at least he tried.
+10 # Blackjack 2018-06-12 14:06
The meeting provided just what Trump wanted (and always wants)--a giant photo op! And bragging rights, though having done nothing to deserve them except for actually showing up. But Kim did that, too, so we spent millions of dollars for that?
+2 # lfeuille 2018-06-12 23:50
Trump just threw water on a fire that he himself started with his big mouth. but at least the situation vis a vis NK should calm down for a while and can stop worrying about nuclear war for now. So people are up in arms that he offered to stop the war games but I think that is a good thing. Dialing back on provocative actions will help stabilize the situation. Not that I give credit to the moron in chief for having a strategic plan, we just lucked out this time, but still it will be nice to have one less world hot spot and one less distraction from all the crimes he is committing elsewhere.
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-06-13 10:56
Ife - "Dialing back on provocative actions will help stabilize the situation"

I agree with this. The strange thing is I read very many "pundits" in the media who are expressing outrage that US war games were called by Trump "provocative." They claimed the US military was not provocative.

I think it is OK to give credit where credit is due. This was Trump's plan. He had to demand that Bolton and Pompeo stay out of the room when he met with Kim. I don't think Trump will be successful any more. He was allowed to have -- as BJ says -- his 15 minutes of fame. Now it will end and the military will resume its control of the Korea situation. This is too bad. Trump was right on this one -- orange hair and foolish mouth and all.
+2 # librarian1984 2018-06-13 06:22
Un is the first NK leader educated outside his country. He is young and sees the appeal of modernity and acceptance. Perhaps he sincerely wants to join the world.

At the same time he knows what happened to Qaddafi.

Despite the odds, the naysayers and John Bolton this meeting actually took place.

It's good that the military exercises are cancelled. They are aggressively provocative. (We're doing the same thing at Russia's borders now too.)

For Democrats and the msm Trump can do nothing right. After a year and a half they're still not over his victory and, like anyone in denial, can't see what's right in front of their eyes -- Trump accomplished something good. A year ago we were in a panic; now there's some lessening of tensions. Everyone who's not a warmonger thinks that's a good thing.

Of course this is the first step of many, and might lead nowhere, but what Trump supporters see is that he accomplished something no other president did -- but is still belittled and criticized -- confirming their hopes that they weren't duped after all and the criticisms are based on bias rather than fact.

If, instead, we acknowledged this as good, future criticisms might be believed. The relentless negativity makes Trump look like a martyr. It makes the long term goal of preventing his reelection more difficult to achieve.

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