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Analyzing The Path Forward For U.S.-North Korea Relations


The significance of this day has been undeniable. The leaders of the United States and North Korea met in person for the first time.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're prepared to start a new history and we're ready to write a new chapter between our nations.

MARTIN: President Trump and Kim Jong Un signed an agreement committing to peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.


TRUMP: There is no limit to what North Korea can achieve when it gives up its nuclear weapons and embraces commerce and engagement with the rest of the world that really wants to engage.

MARTIN: Anna Fifield covers the Koreas for The Washington Post. She is with me now in Singapore. Anna, thanks for being here.

ANNA FIFIELD: Great to be here, Rachel.

MARTIN: The biggest surprise out of the summit, I think we can say, is this announcement by President Trump that the U.S. is going to put a stop to military exercises, joint military exercises, between the U.S. and South Korea. That is a big deal, is it not?

FIFIELD: It's a very big deal. I mean, it's a huge deal for South Korea, which seems to have had no notice that this was coming. As far as I can tell, the South Korean president was not informed in advance. And the U.S. forces in South Korea, when I checked in with them, they also said they had not received any notification, and they were proceeding with their planning for the military exercises due to be held in August. So this is a really sudden change and, in fact, is one that will be welcomed by China because China has been pressing for some time for a freeze for freeze, which is where North Korea would stop testing its missiles and nuclear weapons and, in return, the U.S. and South Korea would stop doing these military exercises. So China hates them and also North Korea hates them because they're a threat to the North Koreans.

MARTIN: But - so what does this mean for South Korea? I mean, this is a way that South Korea has been made to feel more secure.

FIFIELD: Yeah, that's right. I think there's a lot of confusion in South Korea tonight, and the president's office said they are trying to figure out what it actually means what President Trump has actually announced. But if - this will certainly take them by surprise if it turns out that their exercises have been cancelled.

MARTIN: You have watched this unfold for years, and you have watched a change now, a dramatic change. I mean, Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, has been a pariah in the international community for a long time, as was his father and his grandfather. What has it been like for you to see him in this moment?

FIFIELD: Well, I think my observation is that Kim Jong Un is a very different kind of leader from his father. His father was very introverted. He didn't like going out in public. He spoke in public only one time in 17 years in power and then only very briefly whereas Kim Jong Un has come across as this very confident, charismatic leader. He's out and about in North Korea, hugging the nuclear scientists.

MARTIN: He was out and about here in Singapore last night taking a tour.

FIFIELD: Exactly, last night - you know, very touchy feely with President Trump today. He seems to be engaging and enjoying it. And he has been willing also to take some bold decisions in terms of obviously the nuclear program, but now he's really turning to the economy. He wants to make big changes on the - in economic development, and I think that's why we're seeing him taking these unprecedented steps before because he wants to grow the economy in a way that his father and his grandfather did not.

MARTIN: You wrote this personal piece yesterday about your own reflections. You said in it that you feel hopeful in this moment. Why?

FIFIELD: I feel hopeful because Kim Jong Un is an unorthodox leader but also so is Donald Trump and because the previous way of doing things, the orthodox diplomatic process, has not worked over the last 25 years. And now, you know, they've started with the summit. It's a very vague agreement that they agreed to today, but they have started a diplomatic process. And maybe, you know, they can make some progress on this, you know, build some confidence in this very, you know, difficult relationship over the next few months and perhaps years.

MARTIN: Anna Fifield of The Washington Post - she is based in Seoul. She joined us here in Singapore. Anna, thank you so much.

FIFIELD: Great to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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