On June 12th Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un became the first sitting US President and North Korean Leader to meet. An unprecedented historic event after the two leaders spent the better part of the past year trading threats and insults. Trump referring to his North Korean counterpart as ‘Little Rocket Man’ and Kim referring to Trump as a ‘Dotard’. The meeting also came on the heels of the G7 summit in which Trump distanced the US from its traditional western allies amidst a growing trade war.
What was discussed?
The meeting was to discuss nuclear disarmament and regional tensions, but much of what transpired during their meeting remains unclear. The two emerged with the announcement that they had a signed a “comprehensive” document pledging to work towards “the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” and the promise of “new relations” between the United States and North Korea.
During the press conference held after the summit, Trump stated that he would declare an end to joint military exercises with South Korea in what was seen as a major and unanticipated concession to North Korea. The issue of suspending the exercises had previously been ruled out as it was an important symbol of the United States’ commitment to its military alliance with South Korea. But at the press conference Trump said of the exercises that: “We will be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus, it is very provocative,” Trump said.
Trump has also stated that he would like to eventually see US troops removed from South Korea entirely. The statement took regional powers by complete surprise. The presence of US troops in South Korea and Japan has been a staple of regional peace and security since the end of WWII and the Korean War.
“I’d like to be able to bring them back home … That’s not part of the equation right now. At some point, I hope it will be, but not right now,” he said of the approximately 32,000 US troops stationed in South Korea.
The PR machine went into overdrive
In response, Democratic Senators on June 13th introduced an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would stop President Trump from withdrawing US forces from South Korea without the Pentagon’s input. The amendment “would help prevent the President from making a rash decision about troop reductions on the Korean Peninsula that negatively impacts our national security,” Senators Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Chris Murphy of Connecticut said in a joint statement.
Introduced for the Fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the provision states that a troop withdrawal may not be authorized “unless the US Secretary of Defense certifies it is in our national security interest and would not significantly undermine the security of our allies in the region.”
Regional leaders were seemingly surprised by Trumps announcement. A June 12th statement from the office of South Korea President Moon Jae-in said that “At this point, we need to know President Trump’s exact meaning or intentions.”
Meanwhile, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the military exercises were “vital” to the region and that his country wished to “seek an understanding of this between Japan, the US and South Korea.”
On June 14th, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his counterparts from South Korea and Japan where they tried to present a unified stance in the wake of the diplomatic developments.
Pompeo, along with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha reiterated the strength of their respective security ties at a press conference on June 14th.
On the topic of the military alliance between the US and South Korea, Kang said that it remains as “robust as ever.” He also said that American forces in the country “play and will continue to play a crucial role in deterrence, peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
Kono then said that the Japan-US security commitment remained unchanged.
Pompeo himself described the alliance between the US, Japan, and South Korea as “Iron-clad.”
Malware in the Press Kits?
Included among the items handed out to journalists at the summit in Singapore was a USB fan, meant to be plugged into a computer to keep one cool in the summer heat. However security experts were quick to warn everyone not to plug them into their computers as the devices could easily instal malware such as keyloggers or trojans into their computers.
Oliver Knox, Chief Washington Correspondent for SiriusXM took to twitter to talk about the innocuous looking fans. “These have been a staple of international summits for nearly as long as I’ve covered them. At one summit, WH aides raced into the filing center to tell reporters not to use them,” he wrote.
Author and Journalist Barton Gellman also took to twitter to weigh in on the devices. “Maybe the fan is just a fan. Bad bet, though. I should probably add: if you did plug it in you’re human. Malware authors abuse the instinct to trust. Until someone competent has a look, I recommend you power down your machine if you can and change passwords with a clean device.”