President of the United States Donald Trump and Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong Un met in the first summit meeting between the two countries on Tuesday. It was a historic meeting for that reason — and not much else.
The summit was held with the intention of striking a deal for peace and convincing North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program — a huge step forward from last year, when the two leaders were openly threatening a possible nuclear war. But the meeting ultimately revealed the actual goals Kim and Trump had in mind and how little was really achieved.
Both leaders received the positive propaganda they wanted — American and North Korean flags lined the room in which the two shook hands. Photo opportunities were numerous. Trump showed Kim a movie trailer depicting the two as heroes for holding the summit — something likely to show up on North Korean propaganda channels later.
For Kim, the summit was about affirmation of his country’s existence and international recognition. He shook hands and sat with a U.S. president — something no other North Korean leader has ever attained. On top of that, the president declared him to be a funny, smart and “very talented man.” This meeting solidified the image Kim is trying to project as a legitimate political ruler and global force.
Trump got to make the case that he was capable of historic feats by meeting with North Korea’s leader directly to discuss denuclearization, something no other American leader has ever attempted. The president emphasized that he and Kim have a fierce connection that will allow the United States to ensure North Korea will dismantle its nuclear arsenal, telling ABC News “I think [Kim] trusts me, and I trust him.”
But the joint declaration the two leaders signed did not make any significant progress compared to past agreements made between the United States and North Korea regarding Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal. It did nothing but reiterate promises North Korea has already made and did not extract any new concrete agreements that showed Pyongyang is committed to denuclearization.
No specific policy or strategy for easing tensions or ensuring denuclearization was made. Instead, the summit drew a lukewarm promise from North Korea to “work toward” denuclearization and to attend follow-up talks between the two countries.
There was also no sign that the two countries had finally agreed on what denuclearization actually means. As of the summit, it still appears the United States believes Pyongyang must get rid of its nuclear warheads, and Pyongyang sees it as the disappearance of America’s nuclear umbrella that protects South Korea.
To make matters worse, Trump called for a halt to U.S.-South Korean military exercises only a few hours after the summit. North Korea has long regarded these exercises as a provocation — ceasing them is a big concession after receiving only a vague, reiterated promise of denuclearization.
While it’s true that North Korea and the United States no longer seem to be walking toward a nuclear war, the summit was ultimately a huge let-down and achieved nothing of what it promised to do. Kim and Trump both reached their goals of performing a significant historical feat on a global stage, but very little was actually accomplished.
The agreement still contains enough to make it a starting point with the promise of future meetings — hopefully there will be more negotiating and less camera flashing at the next one.