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Analysis: Singapore summit agreement recycles old deals, defers the hard work

Tracy Wilkinson and Barbara Demick, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The diplomatic history of U.S.-North Korean relations is littered with broken promises to denuclearize and deals gone sour.

At their meeting in Singapore, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a document remarkably similar to, and as vague as, those that have failed in the past to bring peace to the Korean peninsula and rid it of nuclear arms.

The summit, for all the anticipatory hype, was never expected to produce much in the way of new policies or strategy. But it actually produced less than many analysts expected.

The meeting did succeed in turning down the heated rhetoric, shifting the relationship to one of diplomacy instead of threatened war and suggesting a new, tentative rapprochement between two longtime foes.

But the absence of specifics hands a gargantuan task to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other American negotiators who must translate what Trump described as a congenial spirit of cooperation into concrete steps.

In the months, even years, to come, Pompeo and his team -- and perhaps their successors -- will have to try set out ways to begin dismantling Kim's arsenal and the timing and verification of those actions.

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The United States and North Korea have still not agreed on the very definition of denuclearization; as far as is known, Kim did not even offer a declaration of the components of his nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal, a step many experts considered to be fundamental.

"We've bought time, we averted confrontation, but you needed a much more robust denuclearization process," said Scott Snyder, director of the U.S.-Korea policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"President Trump was in full salesman mode and didn't have that much to sell," Snyder added.

Buying time is a talent the North Koreans have perfected, one that takes advantage of the fact that U.S. officials have many other priorities to occupy their attention.

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