Experts and at least one former US ambassador have cast doubt on Donald Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un and the president’s “weird” claim to have rapidly developed a “very special bond” with the dictator.
The historic summit between the pair was described as “theatre” and “a show”, and a former senior general expressed concern that Mr Kim’s profile had been raised significantly without a major concessions on his part.
Gen In-Bum Chun, deputy commander of South Korea’s First Army until 2016 and now a senior adviser to the Korea corporate members of the Association of the US Army, said the “show” put on by Mr Trump was “very exciting”.
But he said he still needed to see detail of North Korea’s intention to commit to “comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement” of its nuclear arsenal.
Economic incentives for Pyongyang should come after denuclearisation, he said, but “at the same time, humanitarian activities and humanitarian aid can, I think, be inserted as incentives”.
“There is a very big possibility, as well as a danger, and it might not even be intentional by Kim’s design” that the dictator could emerge from the summit with his reputation strengthened even if he does not stick to any agreement, Gen Chun added in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme before details of the signed document were public.
Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, tweeted: “How does one develop a ‘very special bond’ after a few hours of meeting? That’s really weird to me with anyone, but with a North Korean dictator?”
When detail of the document signed by Mr Trump and Mr Kim became known – including that Pyongyang had committed to “work toward complete denuclearisation” of the peninsula – Mr McFaul added: “It means our negotiators achieved nothing new – not one new concession in exchange for legitimation [sic] of North Korean dictator.”
Experts have previously told The Independent that Washington and Pyongyang have very different definitions of “denuclearisation”. One former US State Department official said that, to the North Koreans, it meant “the removal of the threat posed by us, not them” – referring to the thousands of US troops posted in South Korea and the so-called umbrella of other forces in the region.
John Nilsson-Wright, a Cambridge lecturer and senior fellow at Chatham House, said Mr Kim’s “public confidence enhances a sustained public relations win for a #DPRK press operation that hasn’t put a foot wrong since [the] Pyeongchang Olympics”.
“[It is] what we should expect from the ‘theatre state’,” he added in a tweet. He called the summit “the triumph of style (albeit aspirationally worthy) over substance”.
In the document signed on Tuesday, the US and North Korea also agreed to recover and repatriate the remains of soldiers missing and captured during the Korean War; establish new relations; and “build a lasting and stable peace”.
Mr Trump said the meetings, held on Singapore’s Sentosa Island, went “better than anybody could imagine”.
Asked during his final appearance with Mr Kim what surprised him most during their encounter, he said the dynastic dictator had a “great personality” and was “very smart”, which he described as a “good combination”.