Here’s a roundup of claims made by President Donald Trump at a news conference on June 12 and in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News about his talks in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Chairman Kim and I just signed a joint statement which he reaffirmed his unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. . .. We signed a very, very comprehensive document.”
North Korea has a long history of making agreements and then not living up to its obligations.
The document signed by Trump and Kim was not “very comprehensive” but remarkably vague, leaving it open to interpretation and debate, compared to previous documents signed by North Korea. The statement said North Korea (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) committed to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The phrase is not defined and “toward” is rather weak. In the past, North Korea viewed “denuclearization” to mean the United States removing the nuclear umbrella it provides to Japan and South Korea; there is no indication its definition has changed.
Contrast the Trump-Kim statement, for instance, with the Sept. 19, 2005, agreement signed by North Korea, the United States and four regional neighbors, which was much more specific:
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“The DPRK committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards. The United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons.”
Similarly, the Feb. 19, 1992, declaration by North and South Korea was also very detailed.
“1. South and North Korea shall not test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons.
“2. South and North Korea shall use nuclear energy solely for peaceful purposes.
“3. South and North Korea shall not possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.
“4. In order to verify the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, South and North Korea shall conduct inspections of particular subjects chosen by the other side and agreed upon between the two sides, in accordance with the procedures and methods to be determined by the South-North Joint Nuclear Control Commission.”
Trump’s national security adviser, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, was critical in the past of what he considered vague agreements.
In his memoir, “Surrender is not an Option,” Bolton faulted a follow-on statement to the 2005 agreement, issued Feb. 13, 2007, as “radically incomplete,” even though it included a detailed road map for the “eventual abandonment” of the Yongbyon nuclear facility. He noted that it did not deal with North Korea’s existing stockpile of nuclear weapons, contained “no verification provisions whatsoever” and failed to address the issue of Japanese and South Korean abductees.
None of those elements are in the statement Trump signed with such fanfare.
“We will stop the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money. Unless and until we see the future negotiations is not going along like it should. We will be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus. It is very provocative. . . . They are tremendously expensive. The amount of money we spend on that is incredible.”
Trump apparently offered this unilateral concession to North Korea without consulting with the Pentagon or the government of South Korea. It’s unclear what the annual war games cost. Trump offered no figures for his claiming of saving “a tremendous amount of money.” South Korea pays about 50 percent of the total non-personnel costs of U.S. troop presence on the peninsula, according to the Congressional Research Service. Given that this is a training exercise, troops still need training, so presumably canceling this particular exercise will not reduce such expenses.
“In one case, they took billions of dollars during the Clinton regime. Took billions of dollars and nothing happened.”
Oddly referring to the Clinton “regime,” Trump suggests that the United States gave North Korea billions of dollars under the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated under then-President Bill Clinton, which was an earlier attempt to scrap North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.
Not so. The U.S. contribution was an annual supply of 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil every year to make up for the theoretical loss of its Yongyon nuclear reactor while new “light-water” ones were built by an international consortium. Between 1995 and 2003, the United States spent about $500 million supplying the fuel oil that was required under the deal.
The consortium was called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO). KEDO’s final annual report, issued in 2006, shows that 30 or so countries funding the project spent about $2.5 billion before it was shut down after the George W. Bush administration accused North Korea of cheating on the Agreed Framework. (Most of the funds, about $2 billion, were contributed by South Korea and Japan alone.)
But this money did not go to North Korea; it went to the companies that were building the reactors in South Korea, Japan and the European Union.
As for “nothing happened,” that’s incorrect. Until the Bush administration accused North Korea of cheating on the 1994 accord by pursuing uranium enrichment, Pyongyang’s stash of plutonium in spent fuel rods was kept in cooling ponds under the constant supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. When the deal collapsed, North Korea broke the seals, removed the rods and began building nuclear weapons.
“On the Iran deal, I think Iran is a different country now. I don’t think they are looking as much to the Mediterranean and so much as Syria like they were with total confidence.”
Trump has repeatedly said this in recent weeks, but there is little evidence to suggest that Iran’s meddling in regional politics has ceased since he pulled out of the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.
“I notice some of the people are saying the president has agreed to meet. He has given up so much. I gave up nothing.”
A presidential-level meeting with a rogue regime is generally reserved for the end of a process. With a summit at the front end, Trump conferred legitimacy and status on a leader regarded as one of the world’s worst tyrants. Trump may believe that is unimportant, but most foreign policy experts view it as a significant concession.
“When you look at all of the things we got and when we got our hostages back, I did not pay $1.8 billion in cash like the hostages that came back from Iran, which was a disgraceful situation.”
President Barack Obama did not pay any money to get detainees back from North Korea or, depending on how you look at it, Iran.
Trump’s reference to $1.8 billion refers to the timing of a settlement of a long-standing claim regarding undelivered aircraft made by Iran on the same day four American detainees, including The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian, were released. A jumbo jet carrying $400 million in euros, Swiss francs and other currencies landed in Tehran as the detainees flew off. That money purportedly was partial payment of an outstanding claim by Iran for U.S. military equipment that was never delivered. Soon after, $1.3 billion in cash followed.
State Department officials have insisted that the negotiations over the claims and detainees were not connected but came together at the same time, with the cash payment used as “leverage” to ensure the release of detainees.
“We have a big trade deficit with Canada. It is a surplus. It is not a surplus. It is either 17 or it could be 100. I don’t know if you saw it. We found it. Perhaps they were trying to show the power they have. It is close to $100 billion a year loss with Canada.”
This is false. Our fact-check on this Four-Pinocchio Trump claim appeared on The Washington Post website during Trump’s news conference. The reality: The United States has a surplus, not a $100 billion trade deficit, with Canada.
“We are paying from 60 percent of 90 percent of NATO.”
Nope, nope, nope. Trump never gets this correct.
There are two types of funding for NATO: direct funding and indirect funding. Direct funding, for military-related operations, maintenance and headquarters activity, is based on gross national income – the total domestic and foreign output claimed by residents of a country – and adjusted regularly. With the largest economy in NATO, the United States pays the largest share – about 22 percent. Germany is second, with about 15 percent. A significant portion of the U.S. share is operating the Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS) fleet, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The U.S. share of the actual military budget is negotiated each year, but largely based on the cost-sharing formula, and amounts to less than $500 million a year, according to Defense Department documents. That’s chump change in a $700 billion military budget.
As for indirect funding, since 2006, each NATO member has had a guideline of spending at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense spending. At a 2014 summit, responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine, NATO members pledged to meet that guideline by 2024.
As of 2017, 12 of the 28 members exceed the guideline – with the United States leading the way at 3.6 percent. But this is simply money that each country would spend on its own military – or on missions that do not include NATO, such as peacekeeping in Africa.
“A 15-year process. Assuming you wanted to do it quickly, I don’t believe that. I think whoever wrote that is wrong. There will be a point at which when you are 20 percent through you can’t go back.”
A team of Stanford University experts, led by Siegfried S. Hecker, came up with a 10- to 15-year estimate when they produced a detailed road map for dismantlement of the North Korean program. Hecker has visited North Korean nuclear facilities, including one for enriching uranium, four times.
“The approach suggested here is based on our belief that North Korea will not give up its weapons and its weapons program until its security can be assured,” the report said. “Such assurance cannot be achieved simply by an American promise or an agreement on paper, it will require a substantial period of coexistence and interdependence.” The report noted that “North Korea has covert facilities that it is unlikely to declare and eliminate initially” and that “the financial costs of each of the steps must be analyzed and anticipated.”
Trump’s suggestion that just a 20 percent pullback is irreversible does not make much sense, especially if North Korea has hidden facilities that are not declared.
Interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos
“[Iran was a] terrible deal. . .. I don’t think a deal could be softer. First of all, we’re not paying $150 billion.”
Trump rejected any comparison with Obama’s Iran deal. But he’s wrong to claim, yet again, that Obama paid Iran $150 billion.
Trump always makes it sound like this is U.S. taxpayer money – and he always uses a too-high estimate. Because of international sanctions over its nuclear program, Iran had billions of dollars in assets that were frozen in foreign banks around the globe. With sanctions lifted, in theory those funds would be unlocked.
But the Treasury Department estimated that once Iran fulfills other obligations, it would have about $55 billion left. (Much of the other money was obligated to illiquid projects in China.) For its part, the Central Bank of Iran said the number was actually $32 billion, not $55 billion.
“His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.”
Trump has done a 180-degree turn here. On Nov. 7, 2017, speaking in South Korea, here’s how the president described life in North Korea:
“‘The horror of life in North Korea is so complete that citizens pay bribes to government officials to have themselves exported abroad as slaves. They would rather be slaves than live in North Korea. . . . Citizens spy on fellow citizens, their homes are subject to search at any time, and their every action is subject to surveillance. In place of a vibrant society, the people of North Korea are bombarded by state propaganda practically every waking hour of the day. North Korea is a country ruled as a cult. At the center of this military cult is a deranged belief in the leader’s destiny to rule as parent protector over a conquered Korean Peninsula and an enslaved Korean people.'”
The United Nations, in a 2014 report detailing “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations,” described the country as a ruthless police state where as many as 120,000 people are kept in political gulags under horrific conditions; other prisons, effectively labor camps, hold people for ordinary crimes. Telephone calls are monitored, and citizens are punished for watching or listening to foreign broadcasts.
“Throughout the history of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, among the most striking features of the State has been its claim to an absolute monopoly over information and total control of organized social life,” the report said. “The commission finds that there is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association. The State operates an all-encompassing indoctrination machine that takes root from childhood to propagate an official personality cult and to manufacture absolute obedience to the Supreme Leader.”
In other words, people lacking sufficient fervor for Kim probably will find themselves in prison.