N.Korean State Media Claim Victory for Kim at Singapore Summit

中央日報
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (right) shakes hands with Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan before leaving Singapore on Tuesday night. /Courtesy of the Singaporean Ministry of Communications and Information

North Korea's state media on Wednesday sold the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore as a diplomatic victory for the country's leader Kim Jong-un.

The Rodong Sinmun daily portrayed the relationship as weighed heavily toward the North, which will graciously "take additional steps if the U.S. side takes sincere measures to improve relations."

The notion that the ball is now in the U.S. court has some grounding in reality after Washington seemingly abandoned demands for complete denuclearization before concessions can be made.

Wi Sung-lac, a former nuclear negotiator, said, "Until now, progress in denuclearization was considered a prerequisite to U.S. security guarantees and the establishment of a peace framework, but that sequence appears to have changed." 

At one stage, the U.S. trumpeted a "Libyan model" whereby the North would have to hand over all its weapons of mass destruction, blueprints and production facilities first before it gets any rewards. Pyongyang by contrast wanted a gradual process with rewards at each stage.

In the final communique at the summit, Kim only committed himself to working "towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," a stock phrase the North has been using since 1992.

Mention of the Libyan model, with its implied threat based on the fate of Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi, incensed the North, and U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters after meeting Kim's right-hand man Kim Yong-chol early this month that he told him to "take your time. We can go fast. We can go slowly."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday claimed that behind-the-scenes agreements are extensive and do commit the North to taking concrete steps, but refused to give details.

There are reports that the two sides now envisage denuclearization in two to three stages under a two-year deadline, with rewards meted out at each stage.

"The leaders of [North Korea] and the U.S. agreed on the need to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula," the Rodong Sinmun claimed. 

The U.S. signally failed to include its formula of "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization" in the Trump-Kim agreement.

One former high-ranking diplomat who took part in six-party denuclearization talks said, "If a package settlement is not reached, we have to expect a tedious and drawn-out game of inspections and verification. The deal faces the risk of falling apart at any moment, because the devil is in the details."

Diplomats say the agreement is a gift to China and Russia, with Trump promising at the press conference after the summit to end South Korea-U.S. military drills and even the eventual pullout of American troops from South Korea.

One researcher at a state-run think tank said, "The joint South Korea-U.S. military drills and presence of American troops in the South are a thorn in the side not only of North Korea but of China and Russia as well. China and Russia are probably having a hard time controlling their glee."

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