In a triumphant tweet upon his return to Washington on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump declared that there was “no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” a brash and dubious claim following his summit with that country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, that yielded no concrete details about how or when Pyongyang would relinquish its atomic arsenal.
“Just landed — a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” he wrote in the first of three tweets about the summit. “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!”
At their summit, Trump and Kim agreed in a joint statement to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” while committing to a “lasting and stable peace.” But the vaguely worded document did not clearly address the North’s current nuclear arsenal, estimated to be as many as 60 bombs, or its numerous shorter- and longer-range missiles, including weapons believed capable of striking much of the continental United States.
At a news conference after the summit’s conclusion, Trump, citing the “tremendous cost” and improved environment, said that he would also halt all joint military drills with South Korea.
The announcement caught not only allies Japan and South Korea off guard, it also took the U.S. military command in the South, U.S. Forces Korea, by surprise.
In a separate tweet Wednesday, Trump addressed the issue, saying that the U.S. would “save a fortune” by not holding the “war games.”
Trump’s Twitter barrage came as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo jetted to Seoul for follow-up talks Wednesday and Thursday. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono was also scheduled to visit Seoul on Thursday for talks with his U.S. and South Korean counterparts to discuss the summit. Pompeo was slated to fly on to Beijing later Thursday.
Trump’s comment that the threat was now over was unlikely to provide relief to Japan and South Korea, both home to large U.S. military presences, as both expressed concerns over his decision to halt the military exercises, which Pyongyang has long claimed are preparations for an invasion.
Bother U.S. allies view the drills as a bulwark against North Korean aggression and necessary to ensuring a stable security architecture in Northeast Asia.
The U.S. has stationed troops in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s and currently has some 28,500 in the country. Japan also hosts a large contingent, with some 50,000 U.S. military personnel in the country. The next scheduled major joint South Korean exercise, which typically involves tens of thousands of troops, is normally held in August.