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Only time will tell if Trump and Kim Jong accord was step forward


Andrew Buncombe

Andrew Buncombe

Andrew Buncombe

They came, they saw. They shook hands, exchanged warm words, and simply in meeting, they made history.

But as Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un departed from Singapore, having talked for more than four hours and apparently agreed to work towards denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, it was unclear whether the two countries were on a path to securing a genuine peace deal, or had in essence engaged only in a glorified photo-opportunity.

In a press conference after the working sessions had concluded, Trump sounded optimistic and thanked the 34-year-old North Korean leader for "taking the first bold step towards a bright new future for his people".

Earlier, Kim said the leaders had "decided to leave the past behind". He vowed: "The world will see a major change."

Yet, though the two men signed a document that was seen by the media pledging to work towards getting rid of nuclear weapons, the details it contained were thin. Shortly before he boarded Air Force One to leave for the US via Guam, Trump said the US would verify North Korea's denuclearisation. "We're going to have to check it. We will check it. Total and complete," he said.

Trump said he had decided that the US should halt its military operations on the Korean peninsula in what would represent a major concession by Washington. China and Russia had proposed such a "freeze for a freeze", or "dual suspension", last November, but the US leader rejected it out of hand.

At the same time as Trump's plane left Singapore, US military forces in South Korea had not received any direction to cease joint military drills.

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Critics of Trump said he had given up a lot, while receiving very little in return. While the summit had given legitimacy to Kim, on whom Trump appeared to lavish praise, he had barely raised the issue of human rights. In a bizarre moment, responding to a question on whether he had betrayed those held in North Korea's gulags, he claimed the tens of thousands of such individuals were among the day's biggest winners.

The true test of whether Trump's gamble has paid off will only come in the coming days and weeks. He said that secretary of state Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton would be following up with Pyongyang next week to press its commitment to start denuclearisation.

But critics fear that the US has been here before, most importantly in 1994 and 2003 when the North Korean regime vowed to give up its weapons programme for an easing of sanctions, only to see it renege on the deal.

It may be that Trump's gamble will end up going south. But as the two leaders shook hands and talked, it was hard not to feel it was a risk worth taking.

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