Trump Toes Kim Jong Un’s line in a Bizarre Press Conference on no Sleep After the Summit

  • President Donald Trump gave a wild press conference on no sleep Tuesday after his historic summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
  • Trump largely took Kim’s word for it when it came to trusting North Korea to denuclearize.
  • Trump said the US would halt military drills with South Korea, and even called them “provocative,” which is North Korea’s word for them and a large concession by any standards.
  • Trump said human rights were brought up but didn’t mention any specifics other than returning remains from the Korean War of the 1950s.
  • Trump congratulated everyone for taking part in history and acknowledged he may be wrong but expressed hope for the future.

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President Donald Trump gave a press conference on no sleep Tuesday in what became a bizarre reflection on his foreign policy that seemed to cede to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s way of thinking.

Trump earlier issued a joint statement with Kim. In the document the two leaders broadly stated the new, positive diplomatic push between the two countries but included few specifics regarding denuclearization.

The statement’s only specific provision was that remains of troops killed in the Korean War of the 1950s be returned to their families.

After opening the conference with a video presentation he showed Kim, which asked whether Kim would “shake the hand of peace,” Trump took questions for more than an hour.

During that time, Trump did not go after Kim’s human-rights record, and he defended the summit as worthwhile based on his personal perception of Kim.

Trump touted North Korea’s unilateral steps toward ridding itself of nuclear weapons, such as destroying its nuclear testing site, though international inspectors weren’t allowed to verify that the site truly was made inaccessible.

When confronted with the fact that North Korea had agreed in principle to denuclearize before but always backed out later, Trump said he was taking Kim’s word for it.

“I believe he’s going to live up to that document,” Trump said. “He will start that process right away.”

Why ‘fire and fury’ ended in smiles and handshakes

Trump nuclear button
A TV in Seoul, South Korea, on January 3 showing one of Trump’s Twitter posts.
Associated Press

Asked to discuss the military consequences should denuclearization talks fall through, Trump declined, saying, “I don’t want to be threatening.”

“Seoul has 28 million people — think of that,” Trump said. “It’s right next to the border. It’s right next to the DMZ.”

“I think you could have lost 20 million people, 30 million people,” in such a hypothetical conflict, Trump said. For that reason, he continued, “this is really an honor for me to be doing this.”

Trump said both the rhetoric of his “fire and fury” threat to nuke North Korea as well as the diplomatic sanctions were needed to bring about this week’s meeting.

Trump gives Kim what he wants on military drills

Foal Eagle 2015
South Korean marines participating in a US-South Korea joint landing operation drill in 2015.

Despite insisting he had given up nothing in meeting with Kim, Trump did make what could be considered a major concession by saying the US and South Korea would halt joint war games, and he did so using North Korean rhetoric.

“We will be stopping the war games unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along as it should,” said Trump, who called the exercises “very provocative.”

North Korea frequently accuses the US and South Korea of provoking it with military exercises, which it sees as a rehearsal for invasion.

Why Trump is sure Kim is for real

trump kim summit
Trump meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday in Singapore.
Evan Vucci/AP

Asked how the US would ensure North Korea was living up to the agreement, he said it would be “achieved by having a lot of people,” both US and international citizens, in North Korea working on denuclearization. He acknowledged this could take a long time for logistical reasons.

Again pressed on why he trusted Kim, who has made no verifiable steps toward ridding his country of nuclear weapons, Trump questioned how anyone could be sure of anything.

“Can you ensure anything? Can I ensure that you’ll be able to sit down properly when you go to sit down?” Trump asked of a reporter who stood to ask him a question.

“I know when someone wants to deal, and I know when someone doesn’t,” he said. “I just feel very strongly, they want to make a deal.”

Human rights

North Korea
In March 2011, the World Food Program estimated that 6 million North Koreans needed food aid and a third of children were chronically malnourished or stunted.
REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

On the subject of the 100,000 people estimated to be in political prisons in North Korea, Trump denied he had betrayed them by meeting Kim, a man who keeps them locked up in conditions that have been compared to those of Nazi concentration camps. Trump said he had done all he could for them.

“I think I’ve helped them. Things will change … I think they are one of the great winners today,” Trump said, adding that “there’s not much I can do right now.”

Trump said he brought up the issue of Japanese abductees with Kim — something Japan had insisted on — but he didn’t provide any specific plans going forward.

Grand hope for the future

Trump peace video Kim Jong Un
Assembled media being shown the video before Trump gave a press conference.
Sky News

Trump said he was looking forward to lifting sanctions on North Korea as the country progresses in denuclearizing, but he said they must remain in place until that time. Along with his video illustrating US hopes for North Korea, Trump painted a picture of a vibrant and open North Korea linking South Korea with China and the world.

“They have great beaches,” Trump said of North Korea. “You see that when they’re exploding their cannons into the oceans. Instead of that you could have the best hotels in the world there.”

Trump also announced that he may visit Kim in Pyongyang and hoped to host him in the US.

Trump concluded the conference by expressing uncharacteristic doubt and praising the summit’s historic significance.

“I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know if I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of excuse,” Trump said with a laugh.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve taken it easy,” a tired Trump said at the closing. “Congratulations everybody. To me it’s a very important event in world history.”

“To be really true to myself, I want to get it completed,” Trump said of North Korea’s denuclearization. “We’ve done a great job, but if we don’t get the ball over the line, it doesn’t count.”

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