(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday hailed his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as an opportunity to usher in “a glorious new era of security and prosperity” for the North Korean people, calling for Kim to seize on the opportunity in the interest of world peace.
“My meeting with Chairman Kim was honest, direct and productive,” Trump said in a press conference following the meeting. “We got to know each other well in a very confined period of time under very strong, strong circumstances. We’re prepared to start a new history and we’re ready to write a new chapter between our nations.”
But reflecting on the meeting Trump appeared to brush off for the most part North Korea’s dismal record regarding human rights, saying it was only discussed “relatively briefly” compared to the primary goal of convincing Kim to dismantle his nuclear program.
“Anybody that takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough,” Trump said. “I don’t say he was nice or say anything about it. He ran it, few people at that age – you could take one out of 10,000 could not do it.”
Though when pressed later in the news conference by ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, Trump claimed it was actually discussed “at length.”
“We will be doing something on it,” Trump said. “It’s rough. It’s rough in a lot of places, by the way. We will continue that and I think ultimately agree to something. It was discussed at length outside of the nuclear situation.”
In a speech to the United Nations last September, Trump made human rights a key issue in his overall condemnation of Kim Jong Un’s regime.
“No one has shown more contempt for other nations and for the wellbeing of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea,” Trump said. “It is responsible for the starvation deaths of millions of North Koreans, and for the imprisonment, torture, killing, and oppression of countless more.”
Trump and Kim spent more than four and a half hours together at the Capella Hotel resort on Sentosa Island Tuesday, holding both a one-on-one sit down with translators followed by an expanded meeting with their top national security aides.
The meetings yielded a joint statement signed by both leaders in which the U.S. agreed to provide security commitments for North Korea in exchange for “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
While it’s unclear what specific security commitments Trump is willing to put on the table, he said during his press conference that he plans to order the halt of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises that the North Koreans have long described as an obstacle to productive talks.
“It’s a very provocative situation,” Trump said. “When I see that and you have a country right next door, so under the circumstances that we’re negotiating a very comprehensive, complete deal, I think it’s inappropriate to be having war games.”
Even as Trump downplayed the importance of the exercises, the move would amount to a potentially major concession to North Korea even as it hasn’t set forward any known concrete steps that would fully eliminate its nuclear program.
“We haven’t given up anything,” Trump said. “Other than — you’re right, I agreed to meet and I think the meeting was every bit as good for the United States as it was for North Korea.”
The agreement signed by Trump and Kim states that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be tasked with meeting with a high-level North Korean official “at the earliest possible date to implement the outcomes” of the summit.
Trump also said in his press conference that U.S. sanctions against North Korea will remain in effect as the country takes steps to dismantle its nuclear program.
The president fielded questions for more than an hour in his first solo news conference since February of 2017.
He sought to brush off questions that his appearance with Kim legitimizes his dictatorship, with some citing a video played for reporters prior to the start of the press conference that the president said he gifted to Kim in an attempt to show him the bright future available to his country.
The video portrayed North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons and being able to adopt Western-style markets, transportation systems and joining South Korea in the modern era.
“I showed it to you because that is the future,” Trump said. “That could very well be the future. The other alternative is not a good alternative.”
Following his press conference, the president will depart Singapore earlier than the White House had originally scheduled. Secretary of State Pompeo said Monday that negotiations with the North Koreans were “moving quite rapidly,” and the U.S. anticipated they would “come to their logical conclusion even more quickly than we had anticipated.”
The conclusion of the historic summit followed an often tumultuous year and a half where at times it appeared that the U.S. and North Korea were closer than ever before to engaging in direct military conflict.
Before Kim’s departure, the president heaped praise on the young dictator, saying he learned from their meeting that he’s “a very talented man” who “loves his country very much.”
“We’re going to take care of a very big and very dangerous problem for the world,” Trump said. “This is going to lead to more and more and more, and it’s an honor to be with you. Very great honor.”
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