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U.S.-North Korea Joint Statement Echos Past Agreements Between The 2 Countries


It began with a historic handshake.


CORNISH: Then U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un headed into a one-on-one meeting, a first for the two countries.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My meeting with Chairman Kim was honest, direct and productive. We got to know each other well in a very confined period of time.

CORNISH: Later, they sat next to each other in matching armchairs, a bouquet of flowers between them.


SUPREME LEADER KIM JONG UN: (Through interpreter) Today we had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind, and we are about to sign the historic document.

CORNISH: Here to talk about what that document says and how it fits into the history of U.S.-North Korea relations - we reached Joshua Pollack. He's a Washington-based expert on nonproliferation and editor of The Nonproliferation Review. Thanks for coming on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JOSHUA POLLACK: It's good to be here.

CORNISH: So this statement, it mentions four commitments. Can you run through the bullet points?

POLLACK: Sure. The four commitments are first, the United States and the DPRK - that is North Korea - commit to establish new relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity. The second is that the two parties will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. The third is a reaffirmation of the Panmunjom Declaration, which the two Koreas made in late April.

Specifically, it says the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Finally, the fourth point, the United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, meaning war dead from the Korean War, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

CORNISH: So how do these points compare to past joint statements and attempts at a deal?

POLLACK: We've seen all four points in the past in different versions. The first point concerning improvement of relations seems to crop up every five to seven years. You could say the two sides renew their vows. The agreement to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula I think can be found as early as the June 2000 joint communique.

Committing to work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, although it echoes the Panmunjom Declaration of last month, goes back to the January 1992 denuclearization declaration between the two Koreas. Finally, the commitment to recovering the remains of the war dead was a practice of the two countries from about 1996 to 2005.

CORNISH: Now, give us your scorecard. What do you think North Korea and the U.S. each got out of this?

POLLACK: Well, on paper, neither side gave up anything or received anything. These are the same standing commitments that both sides have had for a while now. There's not a lot new except, I suppose, the resumption of searching for the war dead. Having said that, the fact of this summit - the visuals, the flags, the handshakes, the smiles - all that certainly elevates Kim Jong Un internationally, enhances his credibility at home, assuming that he feels he needs that.

And I think it will tend to confirm him in his mindset that testing probable hydrogen bomb and long-range ICBM is what has gotten him respect from the powers of the world, including the United States. And I don't think he'll be inclined to give it up.

CORNISH: Looking forward, what steps would you like to see that show that North Korea is serious about moving in the direction of this process at all?

POLLACK: I think a continuation of the working-level talks that started a couple weeks ago would be welcome. Whatever process unfolds, I think we have to be patient, give it time. It usually takes years to produce a substantive set of commitments from the two sides, not weeks. And I think we have to be modest in our expectations. We're not going to get everything all at once.

So, you know, I'm still a little troubled by the rhetoric we hear coming from the administration that the North Koreans are going to commit to give up everything and to do this all very rapidly. That's not happening. It takes years to make any real progress. It would be good to set out down that path and be patient about it and to make progress, not try to get everything all at a stroke.

CORNISH: Joshua Pollack is editor of The Nonproliferation Review. Thank you for speaking with us.

POLLACK: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.