Singapore summit outcome? It all depends on what happens next, and then next …

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on Tuesday.

My take on the Singapore summit:

Nothing of global or geopolitical consequence was accomplished. Gestures, like the release of some hostages, are welcome, but new hostages can be taken if the new Kim-Trump bromance goes south, which it certainly could.

As you have likely already heard, the language that the U.S. accepted, which establishes the goal of this process as the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” is a commitment Kim Jong Un has agreed to in the past, the meaning of which is ambiguous, and which his previous agreement to did not prevent him from acquiring the very substantial nuclear capability he recently achieved.

Without different, clearer language and a way of verifying compliance, it is no breakthrough. Everything depends on what happens next, and then next, and then next and for many steps into the future.

Depending on the future, we might look back on this week’s summit as an important event for the world (in halting nuclear proliferations, for a relaxation of the intense perpetual state of tension on their border between the two Koreas, and for the long-suffering people of North Korea, which is one of the world’s poorest nations as a result of its isolation, among other causes).

To say that none of that is guaranteed is an understatement. One small step down that better path has been taken.

As far as those who say Trump gave Kim Jong Un a huge undeserved gift by shaking his hand and meeting with him, I have no use for that argument. Handshakes and talks are generally good, and better than the alternatives. Denying recognition and diplomatic relations doesn’t seem to have accomplished much.

Of course, Mr. Trump is claiming a colossal historic accomplishment. What else is new? I’m trying to care less about what he says and more about what he does and what happens as a result. It’s hard. I still believe in the importance of factual accuracy and reasonable rhetoric. But in this matter, I prefer not to get completely distracted by the need to focus on Trump’s inaccuracies and self-glorifying statements.

If you would like a smart, calm, fair-minded rundown of some of the factual problems contained in the president’s post-summit interview with George Stephanopoulos, here is the Washington Post’s effort by their great fact-checker, Glenn Kessler.

I have no idea what the odds are of getting to an agreement that will clearly and verifiably lead to North Korea peacefully giving up its nukes. I do not particularly subscribe to the notion, promoted often by Trump, that the odds of getting such a deal are greatly enhanced by his great skills as a dealmaker. But if he and his team and King Jong Un can reach such a deal, I will congratulate them both and the rest of us earthlings.

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Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/13/2018 - 02:03 pm.

    Well, it would certainly help if one knew what was said on the one-on-one portion of the meeting. It’s being spun in several different directions….

    …“I think he’s going to do these things,” Trump said. “I may be wrong … I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”….

    ….When asked by a reporter if he had notes to verify details after the meeting in Singapore, Trump said he didn’t need to. “I don’t have to verify because I have one of the great memories of all time,” Trump said…..

    Meanwhile, Kim say for the US to give him the respect he deserves, drop human rights issues, stop provocative war games, lift sanctions first, denuclearization after, and by the way, what is this “denuclearization” that they speak of ? Theoretically “reciprocal denuclearization” means the US and NK both providing verifiable destruction of their weapons–especially now that they are co-equal.

    • Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 06/14/2018 - 08:40 am.

      It doesn’t matter what was said during the one-on-one session because neither of them can be trusted to mean what they say and neither of them are foolish enough to believe the other one.

      I’m not saying this flippantly, I believe that what was important (and perhaps ultimately useful) is the fact that they met as equals. That has to be a huge deal to Kim.

      We gave more than we got. History will tell whether that was a good strategy.

      My guess is that NK will embark on denuclearization, but at such a slow pace as to never reach zero. And, by the way, pretty much unverifiable.. He will play this out to obtain ever increasing relaxation of sanctions.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/14/2018 - 09:20 am.

        Those were my points exactly. Trump is a salesman who talks in a “word-cloud” blizzard where there might be words you like and words you don’t in that cloud, but the overall intent of the cloud is aimed at getting you to buy into the deal. Trump, as real-estate guy, knows that what is in the “word cloud” doesn’t matter–it’s all in the written text. This is where all of the thousands of lawsuits he is involved in arose from. People believed portions of the cloud and ignored other parts and didn’t pay attention to what was actually in the contract.

        And that is exactly what is so dangerous about the necessity of relying on Trump’s famous memory as to what was agreed.

        And that is why this Trump-speak representation of the US position may lead to deep trouble further on the the real negotiation process with North Korea.

        Already Pompeo is in the process of trying to thread the needle of what was said without angering any of the stake-holders of the meeting.

        That is the differences between “lies”, “just joking”, “figurative language”, “serious but not literal”, “literal but not serious” word games that this administration dances around.

        In the end, it pushes to prominence the idea that the word of the United States through the President is not to be relied upon and there is no fixed agreement ever.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/17/2018 - 08:11 pm.

          The Famous Memory, & Rudy Gulianni

          “This is the reason you don’t let the president testify. Our recollection keeps changing, or we’re not even asked a question and somebody makes an assumption.”

  2. Submitted by Tim Smith on 06/13/2018 - 02:57 pm.

    In this day and age

    it was pretty easy to predict the opinions that would come out of the summitt. Most, but not all of the right is fairly supportive.The left is trashing it and taking much out of context, as usual.They call it failure even though the summitt is just a starting point. If the reverse were true , the two sides would flip their opinion

    The bottom line it is a long process. Reagan/Gorbachev took 3 years and multiple summitts to come to an agreement. Normalization with China took 6 years after Nixon’s first meeting. Given Kim’s past record everyone should remain cautious, but hopeful things have changed for a positive outcome.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/13/2018 - 03:13 pm.


      I haven’t seen anyone describe it as a “failure.” A big load of nothing, perhaps, or a concession that would have had Republicans demanding President Obama’s hide if he had made such an agreement, but not a “failure.”

      Did I mention I’ve also seen it called an immense propaganda victory for North Korea, and a cause for wondering why the President of the United States is so comfortable with authoritarians while being openly hostile to foreign democrats?

      “Normalization with China took 6 years after Nixon’s first meeting.” And Nixon’s first meeting came after years of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, diplomatic gestures of varying sizes, and open expressions of a desire to improve relations. Once the first meeting happened, the path towards normalization was firm. Contrast that with a first meeting coming just a few weeks after the exchange of bellicose taunts from the world’s most dangerous juveniles. Is the path forward certain?

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 06/13/2018 - 09:11 pm.


      Be so kind as to explain, point by point why, the NK deal (folks that have Nukes) is better than the terrible Iran deal (folks that don’t have nukes). Seems having is better (safer) than not having, how does that work?

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/13/2018 - 02:58 pm.

    My inclination

    …for what little it’s worth, is to agree with William Saletan on Slate – that we’re being played. Again. In this case, “we” would be us, the American public, and we’re being played by a man of no moral principles beyond self-aggrandizement and self-promotion. His disciples don’t care about that, but I find a life whose foundation is the sort of self-centeredness usually attributed to toddlers (“the illusion of central position”) to be off-putting. The meeting in Singapore struck me as a get-together of one of the current world’s more brutal dictators with someone who’d LIKE to be a dictator himself.

    Mr. Saletan seems – to me, an unsophisticated rube living in flyover country – pretty close to the mark.

  4. Submitted by Mike Chrun on 06/13/2018 - 04:34 pm.

    As Usual

    The usual suspect immediately puts it in right versus left. He might take his own advice and wait a bit. I see quite a few Republican legislators and even media doubting that anything substantial will come of us. And I see quite a few on the left being doubtful, but, like Eric, being hopeful. At the very least, just about everyone agrees that it is much better to be meeting, even for show, than it is to be trading insults and threats like a couple of junior high boys: junior boys with nuclear weapons.

    It would help a lot if Trump could quit the theatrics and self-gratification, but that’s too much to expect. He backed out of the Iran deal which had inspections and stipulations, and then makes this meeting sound like a much better deal. And the usual suspects see nothing wrong with that? Guess not, just as they choose to not be bothered by Kim’s brutality–now.

    There’s also a real worry that Trump, all of a sudden, realizes he might have been played big time. With people criticizing him, it’s very believable he goes back to being military tough guy and the two countries are threatening each other again with it being harder for Kim and Cadet Bone Spurs to back down.

    • Submitted by Tim Smith on 06/13/2018 - 08:28 pm.


      Meeting is better than nothing, which is the definition of the past dealings with north korea. All so predictable.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/14/2018 - 09:16 am.

        A Brief History of Recorded Nothing

        December 12, 1985: North Korea signs the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, but does not formally commit to abiding by the Treaty until the US removes its nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula. The US does so some years later, giving the North more time to enhance its capabilities.

        January 20, 1992: North and South Korea sign the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula (“the South and the North shall not test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons.”). Problems with inspections lead to the abandonment of the agreement.

        October 21, 1994: North Korea signs the Agreed Framework, by which it promises to stop plutonium production. Eight years later, it is learned that the North is violating the Framework, and it expels inspectors. No verification mechanism can be agreed upon.

        September 19, 2005: At the conclusion of the Six Party Talks, North Korea pledges to abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.” Same again with the verification.
        October 3, 2007: After another set of Six Party Talks, North Korea agrees to disclose all of its nuclear programs, shut down those affiliated with its weapons program, and not to transfer “nuclear materials, technology, or know-how.” Again, no way to verify.

        February 29, 2012: North Korea agrees with the US to suspend nuclear tests and uranium enrichment, and said it will allow inspectors, in exchange for food aid. Two weeks later, North Korea announces plans to launch a satellite, which immediately unwinds the deal.

        June 11, 2018: North Korea signs a statement committing to denuclearization, with no timetables set out. US President Donald Trump immediately cancels long-standing joint military exercises with the South, calling them “provocative,” and hints at removing all US troops from South Korea as a cost-saving measure.

        All so predictable.

        • Submitted by Tim Smith on 06/14/2018 - 03:24 pm.


          nothing accomplished…

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/14/2018 - 04:01 pm.

            That would be the good news

            In fact, Trump walked away from the meeting with less than he went into it with.
            Going in, North Korea was an international pariah with no status as a sovereign nation.
            Going out, it had gained that status without making any verifiable concessions.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/14/2018 - 04:19 pm.

            Except . . .

            There have been many meetings and efforts at reaching an agreement. That’s not how some have characterized “the past dealings with north korea.”

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/13/2018 - 05:43 pm.

    What Trump gave Kim

    was recognition as a leader of a sovereign nation, something that North Korea had lacked.
    What Kim gave Trump was warmed over pie in the sky.
    After throwing South Korea and Japan under the bus, Trump of course declared victory.

  6. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 06/14/2018 - 09:57 am.

    Why Trump never sets a goal or documents anything

    If you have a goal you have something to be measured against. Trump always wants it so he will tell us how he did, much like a dictator. Have you noticed it is always great, best ever, stupendous. etc.

    Trump said he didn’t take any notes because he has a great mind. With that said if he should pass away we are left with nothing to work from. Dictators like those two in a room meetings, that way in the future they can make it up any way they want to. They may even send you or your family member to war based on one of their Trumped up reasons.

    Trump talks about we are safer now. Granted they are talking – end of accomplishment. The rhetoric Trump purposely heated up with little rocket man etc. has calmed down. Kim still has the same arsenal he had a week ago with no requirement to do anything about it. Kim has a history of not living up to any agreements he makes, much like our guy. I don’t feel one bit safer. Our own guy makes me just as nervous as Kim does.

  7. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 06/14/2018 - 09:50 am.

    Trump’s praise of Kim

    You might want to revise your position. Shaking hands and talking is no big deal, but have you read the praise and excuse making Trump has been handing out to Kim, a bloodthirsty dictator as compared to his harsh criticism of Trudeau, a leader of a model democracy that puts the US to shame. And do you really think that if Kim is seeing as having successfully conned the con man, that Trump won’t start a nuclear war? If and when Trump has actually achieved something, then you have something real to write out. He need not be babied.

  8. Submitted by Pat Berg on 06/14/2018 - 11:13 am.


    I find the Nobel talk particularly alarming. And more alarming, still, the chance that they might actually do it (before they wait long enough to see what any of this actually pans out to).

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/14/2018 - 04:17 pm.


      They don’t give Nobel Peace Prizes to politicians who deliberately antagonize their country’s strongest and closest allies. They are also no prizes for trying to ease tensions that they helped create in the first place.

      Maybe he can get a Nobel Participation Trophy.

      And just to save the Usual Suspects the trouble of snarking, no, I don’t think Obama should have been awarded the prize. I don’t know what concerns for protocol* would have led him to think that he couldn’t have turned it down.

      *”Protocol” is another way of saying “not acting like a jerk when you represent your country.” It’s a term that is rapidly falling into disuse, if not irrelevance.

      • Submitted by Pat Berg on 06/14/2018 - 05:00 pm.

        I agree . . . .

        that Obama should not have gotten the prize. Should have mentioned that above.

        I guess I continue to remain puzzled to this day why Obama was awarded it. Which contributes to my worry over the current situation.

        Unfortunately, it has become one more item on the “Gotta one-up Obama!” list that the Current Occupant is so feverishly obsessed with working his way through.

  9. Submitted by Gene Nelson on 06/14/2018 - 11:13 am.

    Talking good…results doubtful

    If this works out, I’ll be happy…but why talking to NK is better…even tho we got nothing substantial…than continuing with the Iran treaty…makes no sense to me.
    What did we get…promises…while ignoring the vast number of broken promises we’ve gotten in the past from NK.
    What did NK gain?
    * Relief from sanctions
    * Recognition from the US
    * Potential removal of troops from SK
    * No more military sessions with SK and Japan
    …and again…we basically got zilch…while trump has endangered the world with his cancellation of the Iran treaty.

  10. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 06/14/2018 - 01:00 pm.

    “I find the Nobel talk particularly alarming. And more alarming, still, the chance that they might actually do it (before they wait long enough to see what any of this actually pans out to).”

    The Nobel for “hope” is an established thing.

  11. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 06/14/2018 - 01:08 pm.

    Mr. Pompeo has said they would like to get substantial progress completed during the President’s 1st term is complete. That would be great, but these things take time.

    For thoughtful people interested in a peaceful Korean peninsula, forgoing substantial progress in his 1st term would be worth the price for complete success in his 2nd. I’m sure VP Pence would agree that working on human rights issues with a de-nuclearized Norko would be a wonderful gift to his administration in 2025.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/14/2018 - 04:06 pm.

      Fantasy Land

      North Korea promised nothing that the Kim family had not promised before over the past 50 years, without ever actually delivering it. Since Kim learned how easily Trump can be played, he is not likely to give anything away in the future. There will be more token gestures, but no inspectors with unlimited access, and the artillery will stay in range of Seoul.
      Remember, the root of ‘substantial’ is ‘substance’. There ain’t none there.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 06/15/2018 - 08:41 am.

      As noted above

      Please explain why this is a better deal (whatever it is) than the Iran deal? NK has nukes no inspections no nothing, Iran has no nukes, constant inspections. and oversight. planned out for years?

  12. Submitted by Joe Musich on 06/14/2018 - 09:16 pm.

    When will a journalist conclude…

    that this was worse and a bigger give away the the accords with Iran ? The two are not mentioned in the same breathe by anybody GOP. Curious.

  13. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/14/2018 - 10:03 pm.

    The [four page initial] document the U.S., Iran, E.U., Russia, and China signed in 2013 included specific actions to be undertaken by each party over the following six months, renewable by mutual consent if talks were progressing. “It required Iran to take some significant measures on its nuclear program that were verifiable and measurable in return for some minimal sanctions easing,” …

    In contrast, the Singapore declaration — at least on paper (and what else is there?) — lacks any specific actions or dates, committing Pyongyang to merely “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

  14. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/15/2018 - 01:23 pm.

    Nobel for Trump ?

    The reasons for Obama’s Nobel prize ?


    The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

    Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

    Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

    For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”
    (end quote)

    Now guess which parts of that do not fit Trump.

    Perhaps the IgNobel prize should be the aim…..

    • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 06/15/2018 - 05:54 pm.

      Nobel for Trump?

      Anybody who, at any point, says the Current Occupant deserves a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for what happened between him and Kim Jong-un *must* also say that the North Korean dictator deserves a joint Nobel nomination for those events.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/16/2018 - 06:38 pm.

        Given that Trump’s border separation policy for the purpose of political leverage is the very definition of “hostage taking”, Trump has absolutely no route to getting a Nobel.

        Kim had 3, Trump has at least 4,000 hostages. And half of them are minor children, too. It’s mega-MAGA !

        No Nobel ? So unfair !

        What, you’re getting tired of winning ?

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