Former Congressman, Arms Control Expert: There Is Little for Negotiators to Build Upon


Contact: Anna Schumann

(June 12, 2018 — WASHINGTON) Former Congressman John Tierney, Executive Director of the Council for a Livable World, released the following statement after the Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore:

“President Trump has gone from his pre-summit ‘reality TV mindset’ that the whole nuclear disarmament issue could be resolved in a one-hour face-to-face meeting to some version of diplomatic reality — that this process will take a long time and command much attention and considerable diplomatic skill.

It is no doubt historic, albeit largely symbolic, that the two leaders met in person, but this is only the beginning. Talking in the diplomatic sphere is an improvement on name-calling and aggressive blustering, and the temperature may have toned down long enough to allow more concrete action if the sides can work it out. And while it is unclear what, if any, rapport may have developed, the summit did not seem to ‘go sideways’ and erupt into acrimony. In that sense, it is off to a better start than the President’s recent discussions with allies. The fact that this summit took place is a modest, but positive, step in the right direction.

The devil is in the details. What do we have today that we didn’t have yesterday? There was a broad statement of principles, albeit the same broad ones that existed before the meeting and which still defy any common definition. There was no statement of North Korea’s inventory of objectionable materials, bombs, missiles or other facilities, nor a verifiable means by which to create a baseline for future negotiations on elimination. There was no concrete statement of what form security assurances would take, though Trump unilaterally appeared to offer up cessation of U.S./South Korean and Japanese joint exercise in the region without consultation with allies.

President Trump did outline one concrete action – the cessation of joint military exercises. The President also North Korea’s statement that it would eliminate a single engine test facility is not actually in the agreement. And North Korea’s statement that it commits to denuclearization of the Peninsula is a restatement of pre-existing comments and still undefined. Thus there is little for negotiators to build upon, and the Secretary of State and others on the negotiating team have considerable work to do just to get any meaningful process off the ground.

For both the President and the Chairman, however, it was a political pageantry moment that each seems inclined to ‘take home’ and exaggerate for their respective political purposes. To the extent that Trump’s political base ‘buy’ his spin claiming success, he will have made a gain. To the extent that others may measure this against his criticism of the Iran negotiations, he’ll be seen to have fallen far short of those and look hypocritical.”

Rep. Tierney was a nine-term Congressman from Massachusetts, serving as chairman of the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee from 2006 to 2010.