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Trump-Kim summit: long on words, short on substance

A conductor reads the latest edition of the Rodong Sinmun newspaper showing images of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meeting with U.S. president Donald Trump during their summit in Singapore, at a news stand on a subway platform of the Pyongyang metro on Wednesday. AFP

By Kim Jae-kyoung

SINGAPORE ― It was full of warm words but ended in vagueness and vanity.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed an epochal pact to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula in Singapore, Tuesday.

But the summit, the first between a sitting American president and a North Korean leader, produced a joint statement with few details on ensuring the path to the dismantlement of the North's nuclear weapons.

It has no detailed framework, timeline or short-term commitments on how Pyongyang will take steps toward denuclearization. More importantly, there are no details on how to verify it.

Most journalists covering the summit shared disappointment in the outcome.

After the joint statement was released Tuesday afternoon, frustration was felt everywhere at the international media center located at the F1 Pit Building on 1 Republic Boulevard.

A few foreign journalists sitting nearby came to ask how this reporter, a South Korean, felt about the results and shared their views.

"Trump said Kim destroyed major missile testing sites but with no details to verify it," said Hajime Misawa, a journalist from Japan's Mainichi Broadcasting System.

"Without the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) presence, it's impossible to confirm their actions."

One radio reporter from France concurred.

"I don't know what the point of the summit was. Trump failed to get a commitment to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID), which the U.S. has claimed is the bottom line for success," she said.

It was more likely a publicity stunt for the two leaders. They shook hands, smiled and strutted for the cameras on Sentosa, an island named after peace.

The summit sparked a media frenzy here.

On their arrival in the city state, their every move made headlines. Hordes of journalists staked out airports, hotels and places they visited, scrambling to get a glimpse of the two leaders.

President Trump said the meeting was "fantastic" but the deal is clearly in favor of Chairman Kim.

He persuaded Trump to stop joint military exercises with South Korea, which Trump called "war games," without putting critical words "verifiable" and "irreversible" in the joint statement.

Also, Kim successfully polished his image with the international community.

Through the summit, he normalized his image and put his status on par with the American president. A surprise city tour he took a night before his meeting with Trump was a supplement.

Behind the vagueness of the agreement was the fact that neither leader could afford to have the summit fail.

Both were desperate to achieve their own goals. Trump wants to win a Nobel Peace Prize and strengthen his base for re-election, while Kim seeks to claim his spot on the world stage and solidify his domestic control.

Still, the Singapore summit raises both concerns and hopes.

On one hand, the meeting once again lays bare the truth about how difficult it is for the two sides to narrow the gap over the definition of denuclearization.

But on the other hand, the fact that the two leaders sat together first to discuss denuclearization is a meaningful step toward a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, a situation that will definitely deter provocative actions by the North.

Let's hope the Singapore summit will be the first step on the long road to peace.