US PRESIDENT Donald Trump celebrated his historic summit with North Korea’s leader with remarks at a press conference and on Twitter that were overly optimistic and which twisted history and raised false hope about full denuclearisation and returning the remains of all missing Americans from the Korean War.
His statements following his meeting on Tuesday in Singapore with Kim Jong-un do not line up with history or with the facts.
Mr Trump tweeted that before he took office America viewed North Korea as a dangerous foe with war imminent — but not any more.
While the summit gave the two leaders an opportunity to express optimism and make a show of their new relationship, it didn’t nail down how and when the North might denuclearise, or the nature of the unspecified “protections” Mr Trump pledged to Kim and his government.
Mr Trump has insisted that strong verification of denuclearisation would be included in a final agreement that his team would sort out with the North Koreans later.
But as of now, North Korea is still believed to have a significant nuclear arsenal that could potentially threaten the US mainland. Independent experts say the North could have enough fissile material for anywhere between about a dozen and 60 nuclear bombs. Last year, it tested long-range missiles that could range the US mainland although it remains unclear if it has mastered the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead that could re-enter the atmosphere and hit its target.
Mr Trump is wrong to say there was an assumption before he took office that the United States would go to war. President Obama had used sanctions to no avail to try to halt North Korea’s nuclear program.
But it wasn’t until after Mr Trump took office that North Korea’s testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile and rhetoric between the two leaders ramped up talk of war.
Fears of conflict were particularly acute after Mr Trump dubbed Kim “Rocket Man” and Kim vowed to “tame the mentally deranged U. dotard with fire.”
Mr Trump also stated that the signed joint statement reaffirmed Kim Jong-un’s “unwavering commitment” to completely denuclearise the Korean Peninsula whereas previous administrations “never got it started and, therefore, never got it done.”
In fact, the Trump administration is not the first to initiate denuclearisation with North Korea. The Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations both did so.
Mr Clinton reached an aid-for-disarmament deal in 1994 that halted North Korea’s plutonium production for eight years, and Mr Bush took a tougher stance toward North Korea, leading to a temporary disabling of some nuclear facilities, but talks fell apart because of differences over verification.
Mr Trump also said that North Korea spent “billions of dollars and nothing happened” during the Clinton administration.
In fact, the Clinton administration and the Bush administration combined provided some $1.3 billion in assistance from 1995 to 2008, says the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan arm of Congress. Slightly more than half was for food aid and 40 per cent for energy assistance.
He’s also wrong in saying “nothing happened” in return. North Korea stopped producing plutonium for eight years under the 1994 agreement.
Mr Trump said about the families of missing troops from the Korean War: “They want the remains of their fathers and mothers and all of the people that got caught into that really brutal war, which took place to a large extent in North Korea. And I asked for it today. And we got it. … So, for the thousands and thousands, I guess way over 6,000 that we know of in terms of the remains, they’ll be brought back.”
In fact, of the nearly 7,800 US troops unaccounted for from the war, about 5,300 were lost in North Korea. Thousand are still missing in South Korea despite its close alliance and history of co-operation with the US.
Between 1996 and 2005, joint US-North Korea military search teams conducted 33 joint recovery operations and recovered 229 sets of American remains.
Mr Trump also said “I remember a nuclear event took place, 8.8 on the Richter scale, and they announced — I heard it on the radio, they announced that a massive, you know, an earthquake took place somewhere in Asia. And then they said it was in North Korea, and then they found out it was a nuclear test, I said, I never heard of a Richter scale in the high eights.”
The facts: There was no 8.8 quake registered in Asia last year. North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb in September 2017, causing an underground blast that registered as a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. An 8.8 quake would be 316 times bigger — and release 5,623 times more energy — than a 6.3.