By Christine Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean state media lauded on Wednesday the summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump as a resounding success, highlighting concessions by the U.S. president and the prospect of a new era of peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula.
According to a report by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Trump expressed his intention to halt U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, offer security guarantees to the North and lift sanctions against it as relations improve.
The U.S. president had said in a news conference on Tuesday he would like to lift sanctions against North Korea but it would not happen immediately.
Kim and Trump invited each other to their respective countries and both leaders “gladly accepted”, KCNA reported.
The summit, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, was in stark contrast to a flurry of North Korean nuclear and missile tests and angry exchanges of insults between Trump and Kim last year that fueled worries about war.
“Kim Jong Un and Trump had the shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” KCNA said.
Trump confirmed the United States will not hold war games with South Korea while North Korea negotiates in good faith on denuclearization.
“We’re not going to be doing the war games as long as we’re negotiating in good faith,” Trump told Fox News Channel in an interview in Singapore after the summit.
“So that’s good for a number of reasons, in addition to which we save a tremendous amount of money,” Trump said. “You know, those things, they cost. I hate to appear a businessman, but I kept saying, what’s it costing?”
U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump’s cost reasoning for halting the exercises was “ridiculous”.
“It’s not a burden onto the American taxpayer to have a forward deployed force in South Korea,” Graham told CNN. “It brings stability. It’s a warning to China that you can’t just take over the whole region. So I reject that analysis that it costs too much, but I do accept the proposition, let’s stand down (on military exercises) and see if we can find a better way here.”
There was some confusion over precisely what military cooperation with South Korea Trump had promised to halt.
The U.S.-South Korean exercise calendar hits a high point every year with the Foal Eagle and Max Thunder drills, which both wrapped up last month.
The United States maintains around 28,500 soldiers in South Korea, which remains in a technical state of war with the North after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.
Trump’s announcement was a surprise even to President Moon Jae-in’s government in Seoul, which worked in recent months to help bring about the Trump-Kim summit.
“For North Korea, they got exactly what they wanted,” said Moon Seong-mook, a former South Korean military official and current head of the Unification Strategy Center in Seoul. “They had a summit as a nuclear state with Kim on equal turf with Trump, got the United States to halt joint military exercises with South Korea. It’s a win for Kim Jong Un.”
Officials from South Korea and Japan were expected to discuss the issue when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in Seoul later on Wednesday. He is scheduled to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in early on Thursday and then hold a trilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.
Trump’s administration had previously ruled out any concessions or lifting of sanctions without North Korea’s commitment to complete, verifiable and irreversible steps to scrap a nuclear arsenal that is advanced enough to threaten the United States.
Critics in the United States said Trump had given away too much at a meeting that gave Kim international standing. The North Korean leader had been isolated, his country accused by rights groups of widespread human rights abuses and under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Japan’s Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera said that, while North Korea had pledged denuclearization, no concrete steps had been taken and Japan would not let down its guard.
“We see U.S. South Korean joint exercises and the U.S. military presence in South Korea as vital to security in East Asia,” Onodera told reporters. “It is up to the U.S. and South Korea to decide about their joint exercises. We have no intention of changing our joint drills with the U.S.”
The Singapore summit did not get top billing in the main state news outlets in China, North Korea’s main ally.
The ruling Communist Party’s main newspaper, the People’s Daily, reported the news in a brief page 3 article about the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s reaction to the talks.
The English-language China Daily said in an editorial that, while it remained to be seen if the talks would be a defining moment in history, the fact that the talks went smoothly was a “positive result”.
“While no one should expect the summit to have ironed out all the differences and erased the deep-seated mistrust between the two long-time foes, it has ignited hopes that they will be finally able to put an end to their hostility and that the long-standing peninsula issues can finally be resolved. These hopes should not be extinguished,” it said.
(Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by Joori Roh in SEOUL, Tim Kelly in TOKYO, Phil Stewart in WASHINGTON, and John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Paul Tait)