Throughout and after his Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump paid some high compliments to his negotiating partner — even going as far as to say the North Korean people felt “great fervor” for their authoritarian leader.
Those were the words that Trump used in an interview with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, in response to a question about the security guarantees Trump had offered Kim during the unprecedented summit between the American and North Korean leaders.
“I don’t wanna talk about it specifically, but we’ve given him, he’s going to be happy. His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor,” Trump said. “They’re gonna put it together, and I think they’re going to end up with a very strong country, and a country which has people — that they’re so hard-working, so industrious. I think if you look at South Korea, someday, maybe in the not-too-distant future, it will be something like that.”
North Korea ranks 167 out of 167 countries in the Economist’s Democracy Index, 174 out of 176 in Transparency International’s corruption rankings, and 180 out of 180 in the Heritage Foundation’s index of economic freedom. Human Rights Watch says it “remains one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world,” with inhumane detention and forced labor imposed on its people by the Kim regime.
Trump was asked about those North Korean human rights abuses during his joint press conference with Kim.
“It was discussed. It was discussed relatively briefly compared to denuclearization. Obviously that is where we started and where we ended,” Trump said. “They will be doing things. I think he wants to do things.”
To top it all off, when Trump was asked about what surprised him about Kim, he replied: “Great personality and very smart. Good combination.”
As Vox’s Jennifer Williams reported, Trump and Kim ended the undeniably historic meeting with a general agreement to work toward “a lasting and stable peace”:
Shortly after the ceremony, the text of the document was released to journalists covering the summit. The agreement consists of four major points:
1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity. (DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the formal name of North Korea.)
2. The US and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018, Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
4. The US and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
It’s far from a peace treaty or a comprehensive agreement to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Nor does it even clarify what each side means by “denuclearization.” As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp has written, that word means very different things to the US and North Korea.
But it’s still progress.