Expectations were high for the Singapore summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Unfortunately, while Tuesday's meeting was always supposed to be a first step in the negotiating process, it was a minuscule one at best.
Most disappointing, North Korea set the terms of negotiations, with both parties agreeing to complete denuclearization (a reaffirmation of the Panmunjom Declarationforged at the inter-Korean summit earlier this year where North and South Korea agreed to denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula) rather than America's high bar of complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear program.
In this case, words matter because the two countries have a fundamentally different understanding of denuclearization. This was very surprising, considering that the Trump administration made CVID a top goal of negotiations, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments before the summit indicated that negotiations were focused on putting in place a strong verification process.
If verification were truly the top priority, we should have expected the declaration to include intent to permit inspections and institute oversight mechanisms to ensure progress on denuclearization. No practical steps were outlined in the joint communiqué.
Equally disheartening was the failure to take steps to address North Korea’s egregious human rights track record. The summit was a potentially historic opportunity for the president to not just raise human rights during the dialogue, but also to lay out steps Pyongyang’s leadership could take to bring North Korea into the 21st century and discontinue its violations of human rights.
In a paper I wrote for The Heritage Foundation ahead of the summit, I called on the Trump administration to place closure of the political prison camps that imprison 80,000 to 120,000 people on the agenda for the summit. That obviously did not take place. I was encouraged to hear, however, that the president raised human rights concerns, especially highlighting religious freedom violations in the country.
While the summit did not deliver as much as was hyped, there is some promise for future dialogue. If the two countries are sincere in seeking an authentic reset in their relationship, the United States should take a more holistic and comprehensive approach to its North Korea policy — one where both national security and human rights challenges can be addressed in tandem, and where practical steps are put in place to verify that progress is being made in both spheres of concern.
This piece originally appeared in USA Today