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The agreement signed by President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday appeared to contain no new pledges and was padded with vague language that many experts said would be difficult to enforce.
While some commentators were scathing, others painted the meeting as the historic first step in a process where the technical details would come later.
And even some critics conceded that any level of diplomacy was preferable to the apocalyptic threats traded between Trump and Kim last year.
Tuesday’s document described itself as “an epochal event of great significance” and said Kim’s regime had agreed “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
This commitment is nothing new.
As recently as April, North and South Korea pledged to work toward the “common goal” of “complete denuclearization” and “a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”
And in 1994, the U.S. and North Korea signed something called the “Agreed Framework,” which said Pyongyang would “consistently take steps to implement” a denuclearization pact from two years earlier.
“The declaration amounts to pretty much nothing — it’s an empty commitment,” Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, told NBC News.
Lankov believes Trump had achieved an accomplishment by bringing Kim to the negotiating table, but squandered the opportunity by letting the despot give nothing away while gaining a plethora of photo opportunities and good PR.
“The Americans had the opportunity to force the North Koreans to make significant concessions, but they didn’t use the advantage they had,” said Lankov, who is also director of the NK News website.
The North Koreans are in no rush. Trump will be president for a maximum of seven more years; Kim plans to rule North Korea for the rest of his life.
Even if these are just the opening pleased-to-meet-yous, skeptics predict the North will drag its heels, canceling meetings, fudging details, so that the ever-more distant prospect of “denuclearization,” while agreed upon, is never actually fulfilled.
“They will play for time,” Lankov said.
Rüdiger Frank, a professor of East Asian economy and society at the University of Vienna, wrote on Twitter that “Trump saved the process by taking it slow and one baby step at a time, rather than killing it before it starts.”
‘Vague meaningless pledge’
On Tuesday it appeared Kim didn’t surrender any more ground on his nuclear arsenal than his isolated state has done in the past three decades
“I don’t think Kim Jong Un has given up anything that hasn’t been given up before,” Christopher Hill, who served as ambassador to South Korea under President Barack Obama, told MSNBC. “I wouldn’t even call this a statement — it’s a re-statement.”
In return for the North working toward denuclearization, the agreement said the U.S. would “provide security guarantees” to North Korea — without saying what those might be.