Trump-Kim agreement draws backlash for lacking detail on denuclearization

Key Points
  • Andrew Gilholm, director of North Asia analysis at Control Risks, says: "The statement was brief and vague, and lacked any detail or new commitments."
  • "We don't yet know, and I don't think that this declaration contains an actual definition around what denuclearization means and a convergence on that from both sides," says
US President Donald Trump (2nd R) and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (2nd L) sign documents as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) and the North Korean leader's sister Kim Yo Jong (L) look on at a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
Saul Loeb | Getty

With the ink barely dry, the much-anticipated agreement signed by President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un quickly drew hard-hitting criticism for being short on specifics, especially on what denuclearization really means.

A photo of the document, which Trump deemed "very comprehensive," revealed that North Korea will work toward "complete denuclearization," among other points that the two leaders agreed on. But many experts expressed dismay and disappointment at the accord.

Andrew Gilholm, director of North Asia analysis at Control Risks, called the statement "brief and vague" and said it lacked any detail or new commitments.

"It is likely to be criticized by many observers who object to Trump dealing with Kim without tangible North Korean commitments to real, rapid denuclearization, although such commitments were never a realistic expectation," he told CNBC via email.

Parag Khanna, a senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, told CNBC he didn't think the declaration contained an actual definition of denuclearization, suggesting a convergence between the two sides. Even before the agreement was signed, most experts believed that denuclearization meant different things to both leaders. To Trump, this would mean no nuclear weapons in North Korea, while for Kim, it's about having no U.S. troops in South Korea.

Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said the agreement has "zero practical value."

"The U.S. could have extracted serious concessions, but it was not done. N.Korea will be emboldened and the U.S. got nothing," he tweeted.

Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at think tank Heritage Foundation, called it "very disappointing."

Trusting North Korea commitment not a reliable prospect, academic says

"Each of the four main points was in previous documents with (North Korea), some in a stronger, more encompassing way. The denuke bullet is weaker than the Six Party Talks language. And no mention of CVID, verification, human rights," he tweeted, referring to the term that means complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.

Between 2003 and 2007, multilateral discussions occurred between China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. — known as the six-party talks — when North Korea pledged to abandon its existing nuclear programs.

Sergey Radchenko, a professor of international relations at Cardiff University, cautioned that "we still have to see what is going to come through."

"For the moment I think there's too much excitement here for no good reasons. Of course, it's great that the two leaders have met. ... But in the long term, I would say that trust in North Korea to fulfill its obligations or to stick to the letter of agreement is not a very reliable prospect," he told CNBC.

"You can see this from (the) history of North Korea's relations, with not just its enemies, but its allies as well," he added.

Gilholm of Control Risks added that the "real questions" will be addressed in subsequent talks and implemented over several years.

"It is certainly underwhelming, but this was only ever going to be the start of a process — a very precarious one amid a persistent risk of breakdown and re-escalation," he said.