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Why North Korea’s post-summit intentions are up for debate

One day after meeting in Singapore, President Trump and Kim Jong Un are touting their unprecedented summit as a major success on the road to improved relations between longtime enemies. But the lack of detail has left their joint statement open to interpretation and sparked debate on whether North Korea is serious about denuclearization. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    One day after their meeting in Singapore, both President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un are touting their unprecedented summit as a major success on the road to improved relations between longtime enemies.

    But the lack of detail in their joint statement, issued yesterday, has left the document open to interpretation and it has sparked debate on whether North Korea is serious about denuclearization.

    From Singapore, foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    After a 9,000-mile, 23-hour trip, President Trump landed in Washington, D.C., and declared success. He tweeted, “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” and added, “President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer. Sleep well tonight.”

    North Korea has not given up a missile program that U.S. intelligence says include an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the East Coast of the United States, nor has North Korea given up what U.S. intelligence estimates is anywhere between 10 and 80 nuclear weapons.

    Soo Kim is a former CIA North Korea analyst.

  • Soo Kim:

    North Korea absolutely poses a threat to the United States. The combination of nuclear capabilities and the development of its ballistic missile program, that allows North Korea to use these weapons programs to threaten the United States, to have this bargaining chip.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But just because North Korea has the capacity doesn’t mean it has the intention to use them, especially now that the summit has taken place.

    Patrick McEachern is a State Department official focused on North Korea, currently on leave to the Woodrow Wilson Center.

  • Patrick McEachern:

    I think especially compared to last year, right now, we’re in quite a good place. It’s important to recognize that this wasn’t a capstone summit. This wasn’t an end of a process. Rather, it was the beginning of one.

    This was the time for the two leaders to broadly stress what their goals are and to empower their subordinates to go get them.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And that positivity is reflected how state media is portraying the summit. Usually, North Korean videos demonize the U.S. as an existential threat, and suggest North Korea has to prepare to target the White House or destroy the Capitol.

    But today’s state newspaper seems to mark the Singapore summit as a shift. Newspaper photos feature Kim and Trump smiling, and leaning into each other.

  • Patrick McEachern:

    As jarring as it is for an American audience to see an American president smiling broadly and shaking the hands with a North Korean dictator, it’s orders of magnitude more disturbing or more jarring for the North Korean population to see their leader doing the same with President Trump.

    I think this is really quite significant and I think it shows to the North Korean people and government officials in particular that Kim Jong Un is very firmly behind this diplomatic process and its success.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But interpreting North Korea is no science. And optimism could easily be replaced with venom, argues Soo Kim.

  • Soo Kim:

    North Korea has a history of using its state media as a propaganda tool, so coming after Kim’s return trip from Singapore, where he obviously got a propaganda boost, he was able to shed off his public image as this ruthless dictator.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And the North Korean, or DPRK, statement about the summit has some analysts worried that Kim won’t shed his violent past.

    The statement reads, “If the U.S. side takes genuine measures for building trust, the DPRK, too, can continue to take additional goodwill measures, and it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action,” suggesting North Korea is buying time, rather than serious about denuclearization.

  • Soo Kim:

    If the past is any indication, looking at the statements in both Korean and also in English, there’s — I don’t see much of a tangible hope that things will be turned around this time.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Patrick McEachern Disagrees.

  • Patrick McEachern:

    I don’t see the North Korean statement really indicating that they are going to require the U.S. to front-load all of its concessions. President Trump publicly acknowledged that this would need to be a process, and that he didn’t expect all the issues to be resolved in one fell swoop.

    And so I think of that really is an endorsement of the step-by-step approach that the North Koreans are laying out in their statement as well.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Seoul today to meet military leaders and coordinate with regional allies. He said the U.S. was confident that North Korea was serious about complete and verifiable denuclearization, and that major disarmament could take place by 2020.

    But North Korea has disappointed in the past. Whether this round will prove more successful still remains to be seen.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Nick Schifrin in Singapore.

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