- Tim ShorrockWashington-based investigative journalist. He grew up in Tokyo and Seoul and has been writing about the U.S. role in Korea since the late 1970s. He is a correspondent for The Nation and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism in Seoul.
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have wrapped up a historic summit pledging to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, with President Trump announcing the end of U.S.-South Korean war games. The summit marked the first-ever meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. For more, we speak with investigative journalist Tim Shorrock in Singapore.
More from this Interview
- Part 1: Trump Vows to End “Provocative” War Games on Korean Peninsula After Historic Summit with Kim Jong-un
- Part 2: A New Day for the Korean Peninsula: Christine Ahn Hails Denuclearization Pledge & New Peace Process
- Part 3: Prof. Bruce Cumings: U.S. Bombing in Korea More Destructive Than Damage to Germany, Japan in WWII
- Part 4: Rep. Ro Khanna: If U.S.-North Korea Summit Happened Under Obama, Democrats Would Be Cheering
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We spend today’s show in Singapore, where President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have wrapped up an historic summit, pledging to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In addition, President Trump announced the end of U.S.-South Korean war games. The summit marked the first-ever meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. It came just weeks after another historic meeting between Kim and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, where they agreed to work to formally end the Korean War.
AMY GOODMAN: The U.S.-North Korean summit began with President Trump and Kim publicly shaking hands. They then met privately for less than an hour, with only them and their two translators. This was followed by a large meeting with top aides. At the conclusion of the summit, President Trump and President Kim spoke briefly to the press while signing a joint statement.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So we’re signing a very important document, a pretty comprehensive document. And we’ve had a really great term together, a great relationship. … Would you like to say something to the press?
KIM JONG-UN: [translated] Today, we had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind. And we are about to sign a historic document. The world will see a major change. I would like to express my gratitude to President Trump to make this meeting happen. Thank you.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. It’s fantastic. Thank you very much, everybody. We’ll see you a little bit later. And we’re very proud of what took place today. I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean Peninsula is—it’s going to be a very much different situation than it has in the past. We both want to do something. We both are going to do something. And we have developed a very special bond. So, people are going to be very impressed. People are going to be very happy. And we’re going to take care of a very big and very dangerous problem for the world. And I want to thank Chairman Kim. We spent a lot of time together today, very intensive time. And I would actually say that it worked out for both of us far better than anybody could have expected, I think far better. I watched the various news reports. I would say far better than anybody even predicted. And this is going to lead to more and more and more. And it’s an honor to be with you, very great honor. Thank you. Thank you, to all of your representatives, very much. Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.
REPORTER: Will you invite Chairman Kim to the White House?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Absolutely, I will.
REPORTER: Mr. Kim, would you like to come to Washington?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you, everybody.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Hours later, President Trump held a press conference that lasted over an hour, during which he announced the U.S. would end what he described as “provocative” war games off the coast of North Korea.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: At some point I have to be honest. And I used to say this during my campaign, as you know probably better than most. I want to get our soldiers out. I want to bring our soldiers back home. We have right now 32,000 soldiers in South Korea, and I’d like to be able to bring them back home. But that’s not part of the equation right now. At some point, I hope it will be, but not right now. We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should. But we’ll be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus I think it’s very provocative.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll spend the hour on the historic summit. We begin in Singapore, where we’re joined by Tim Shorrock, who’s been covering the summit for The Nation magazine. Tim grew up in Tokyo and Seoul, has been writing about the U.S. role in Korea since the late 1970s.
Well, Tim, this is the end of an historic day. Talk about the highlights, what you were most surprised by, the significance of what has just taken place.
TIM SHORROCK: Well, it was a pretty amazing day. I think the most significant thing I heard—I just actually returned about an hour ago from—I was at that press conference with President Trump. It’s the first time I’ve seen him in action live, and it’s the longest press conference, I think, he’s given in his entire presidency. He was exuberant. He was buoyant. He was enthusiastic. He was cracking jokes. He seemed really, you know, very, very pleased with himself.
The most surprising thing I heard was when he said, you know, “We’re going to end the war games.” And that had not been previously announced. Yesterday, here in Singapore, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said that the U.S. was ready to give, what he said, very unique guarantees, security guarantees, to North Korea. No one was really sure what he meant. But I think it’s clear what they meant was the ending of these war games, which may have even stunned South Korea, because I’m not clear exactly how much he consulted with President Moon Jae-in on this. That was one thing I was very surprised by. And I think that’s actually quite a stunning development.
And overall, the agreement’s, you know, very, very positive. A lot of people have noted that it’s a little bit vague in terms of really spelling out how—what denuclearization means and how, the steps North Korea will take to denuclearize. But President Trump seems pretty confident that that’s the way they’re moving.
Another part of the agreement that I thought was very important was the fact that they’re going to resume—North Korea is going to allow U.S. military to resume searching for, you know, American soldiers that were killed and missing in North Korea. For a long time, you know, until about 10 or 15 years ago, the Pentagon was doing this in North Korea and working with the North Korean government in searching for remains. And now this is going to start again. And one of the things that’s significant about it is that it actually puts U.S. military personnel in North Korea. And so, you know, that’s a real change in the relationship.
And the entire way that President Trump talked about Kim Jong-un was just—you know, was just stunning. And I think it really took that crowd of reporters, especially all these hotshot White House reporters, you know, quite by surprise, and, you know, the feeling of friendliness he had toward Kim Jong-un and the fact that Kim Jong-un greeted him in English this morning and, you know, spoke kindly to him and greeted him. But it clearly looks like they’re kind of moving to a whole new situation between the U.S. and North Korea.
And, you know, I think the—North Korea has been saying for years and years, and especially over the last year, they wanted the U.S. to end its hostile policy. And these military exercises were clearly, you know, a key part of this hostile policy. And so, removing that seems very important. And the fact that Kim Jong-un committed himself to this on paper with the president of the United States seems quite significant, even though the agreement is kind of vague in some of the specifics about how they’re going to go about these steps.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tim, I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit more about these war games, because the reality is that in the U.S. press they get very little attention, but they are regular features of life around the Korean Peninsula. And also, they have always been raised by North Korea as a signal of the threat from the United States that they face and a reason for them building up their nuclear arsenal, as well.
TIM SHORROCK: Well, that’s right. And, you know, they’ve been going on for a long time. They did—the U.S. did suspend them for a while during the ’90s, while, you know, the negotiations were going on with President Clinton on the earlier nuclear agreement. But, you know, in the past few years, these exercises have really increased in size and tempo. And, you know, 2017, last year, when all the tension was increasing, the United States and South Korea held two series of exercises. In both of them, they practiced things like, you know, the sort of regime change exercises, really. They call them decapitation strikes, where they actually practice going into North Korea and killing off the leadership. So, of course that was seen as a big threat to North Korea. But, you know, these are—last year especially, these are massive, I mean, involving aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, nuclear-armed aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, planes, B-52s.
But over the past six months, as these talks—as the diplomacy has been going on, they did scale back the last series of exercises, although what really got these talks sort of jump-started, in terms of Trump and Kim, was North Korea’s objection to certain strategic bombers being used by the United States in the last series of exercises a few weeks ago—namely, B-52 bombers that carry nuclear weapons. And North Korea got very upset about it and, you know, canceled their talks temporarily with South Korea over those strategic bombers. And then the U.S. backed down and said, “OK, we’re not going to use them.” So, you know, this is quite a step.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Tim, let’s go to President Trump, in this news conference that he just held, about an hour before the broadcast, the first extended press conference he’s held in over a year, speaking precisely about those planes.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’ve done exercises for a long period of time, working with South Korea. And we call them war games, and I call them war games. And they’re tremendously expensive. The amount of money that we spend on that is incredible. And South Korea contributes, but not 100 percent, which is certainly a subject that we have to talk to them about also. And that has to do with the military expense and also the trade. So, we’re doing that. We actually have a new deal with South Korea in terms of the trade deal, but we have to talk to them. We have to talk to many countries about treating us fairly. But the war games are very expensive. We pay for a big majority of them.
We fly in bombers from Guam. I said it when I first started. I said, “Where do the bombers come from?” Guam, nearby. I said, “Oh, great, nearby. Where’s nearby?” Six-and-a-half hours. Six-and-a-half-hours, that’s a long time for these big, massive planes to be flying to South Korea to practice and then drop bombs all over the place and then go back to Guam. I know a lot about airplanes. It’s very expensive. And I didn’t like it.
And what I—what I did say is—and I think it’s very provocative. I have to tell you, Jennifer, it’s a very provocative situation, when—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. So, number one, we save money—a lot. And, number two, it really is something that I think they very much appreciated.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Trump speaking at his news conference against a backdrop of the logo of the summit, which is a combination, in a circle, of the American and North Korean flags. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll continue with Tim Shorrock, who is right now in Singapore, and we’ll be joined by one of the leading scholars on Korea, Bruce Cumings, as well as Christine Ahn, who has been working on the issue of Korea, a Korean herself, for many years. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: “Spring Rain” by Yiruma, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We’re still with Tim Shorrock, who is in Singapore, was at the news conference, President Trump’s first extended news conference in over a year. Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tim, I wanted to ask you about the statement that they signed, that the two leaders signed, that basically had four general points about committing to establishing new relationships between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea and building a stable and lasting peace. But one of the principles is reaffirming the April 27, 2018, Panmunjom Declaration, which is—really came out of the meeting of the South Korean leader and the North Korean leader back on April 28th. So this is really, basically, reaffirming what has already been negotiated, which is working toward an end to the Korean War.
TIM SHORROCK: That’s right. And I thought that was actually significant, because it does put the two Koreas back in the middle of this, of the middle of any agreement. And, of course, that Panmunjom Declaration did say, you know, ending the war, ending the hostility, and taking steps to end the hostilities, and then, of course, expanding it to make a peace treaty ending—formally ending the war, which would have to include China and the United States. Now, I was a little surprised that, you know, they didn’t actually say they were going to have a peace treaty or announce the end of the Korean War, as some people—as, actually, Trump had led people to anticipate. But I think it’s very important that this is included.
And I also want to say, again, you know, back in terms of the exercises, that his term—use of the term “provocative,” I almost fell out of my chair when I heard him say that, because, I mean, for those of us who have been critical of these military exercises, you know, we call them provocative, too. And, you know, I know people who have been sort of attacked, redbaited, just for saying that. So, you know, he’s taken quite a bold step here.
It still is unclear to me exactly what role the South Korean government played in this and how much they were actually consulted. And I do think that, you know, just talking to some of the Korean reporters I was sitting with at the press conference, that there’s probably a possibility that this agreement is going to be very much criticized by—especially in South Korea, by the right, which is not very big, but is very vocal, maybe, you know, 20 percent or so of the voting population. But, you know, the parties are there, and they’ve been very critical, of course, of the Panmunjom Declaration. They don’t like it. They don’t like really making peace with North Korea. And I think that this idea of ending the war exercises, for them, is going to be very, very troublesome. And it’s going to be an issue for Moon Jae-in, as well, because he’s been under attack from the right wing in South Korea.
And I think it’s a huge opening for critics of Trump here, both from the liberal side and from the conservative side. You know, we saw last week the Democratic—the Senate Democrats put out this letter saying that unless North Korea did show that it was, you know, moving solidly toward denuclearization, verifiable, irreversible and so on, that they would oppose the agreement. And so I think we’re going to see opposition from some Senate Democrats on this and probably, you know, other people in Congress. And there’s a lot of liberals that are really—don’t really like the way this panned out, in terms of like—you know, they think that Trump is maybe abandoning another ally and that kind of thing. So I think there’s a lot to be understood, you know, how this came out and how this was worked out, if it was, with South Korea.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is an important point. And in a moment, we’re going to be going to Ro Khanna, a congressman, talking about Democratic opposition to this summit, which is a very interesting flip right now. And before we lose you on the satellite, Tim, this statement that has been signed, talk about the atmosphere in the room of the news conference, as you are saying, the elite reporters there having so many questions about: What do you mean the war games will be canceled? But also, overall, does this statement represent something new? Has something like this been signed before?
TIM SHORROCK: Something like this has been signed before, yes. And some of the language is very similar to past agreements, not only the '94 agreement, but agreements that happened after that. But the difference is you had the two leaders meeting. I mean, obviously, this was an unprecedented meeting between the president of the United States and the chairman of North Korea, the leader of North Korea. So, you know, you've never had a document where the top leaders of the countries signed. So that makes it, you know, a much stronger agreement.
But as for the press, I mean, their—actually, you know, half the questions at the press conference were about the issue of human rights. This has become a big concern for a lot of people, you know, why didn’t they raise it and this kind of thing. They seem to think that human rights should be raised first. And we can see this, you know, in some—and The New York Times today has lots about that, op-eds about this. And so I think he’s going to be really criticized from the Democrat Party, as well as some Republicans, for not going after Kim Jong-un on human rights. But, you know, I think that, clearly, ending the war and bringing peace is going to be good for human rights. And I think that would be my response if I was asked about it. But I think that there’s going to be a lot of political minefields here in the U.S. in this, and I expect to see a fair amount of—a fair amount of opposition and a lot of criticism.
AMY GOODMAN: Tim, we want to thank you for being with us, directly from the news conference, speaking to us from Singapore, where this historic summit has just taken place.