SEOUL - The US hopes to see “major disarmament” of nuclear-armed North Korea by the end of President Donald Trump’s first term in 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.

Speaking the day after an unprecedented summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pompeo told reporters in Seoul negotiations on Pyongyang’s atomic arsenal could move forward quickly and would take place “most certainly in the president’s first term”.

“Major disarmament... We’re hopeful that we can achieve that in the two and half years,” he said, adding that there is “a lot of work left to do”.

At the first-ever meeting between sitting leaders of the US and North Korea on Tuesday in Singapore, Trump and Kim pledged in a joint statement to work toward the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”.

However this stock phrase, favoured by Pyongyang, stopped short of longstanding US demands for North Korea to give up its atomic arsenal in a “verifiable” and “irreversible” way.

When questioned on the wording of the statement, Pompeo said Wednesday that Trump’s intention was to allow the US the opportunity to pursue further productive conversations on the issue with Pyongyang. “Let me assure you that ‘complete’ encompasses verifiable in the minds of everyone concerned. One can’t completely denuclearise without validating, authenticating,” he said.

Critics have said the encounter between Trump and Kim was more style than substance, producing a document short on details about the key issue of the North’s atomic weapons.

Military drills

In his post-summit press conference, Trump made the surprise announcement that the US would halt joint military exercises with its security ally Seoul - a concession Pyongyang has sought for decades.

The US stations 28,500 troops in South Korea to help protect it from its northern neighbour, which invaded in 1950 to try to reunify the peninsula by force.

The announcement appeared to take both the South Koreans - and even top officials in the Pentagon - by surprise, especially since Trump embraced Pyongyang’s rhetoric in calling the drills “provocative”.

At his press conference in the South Korean capital Pompeo defended Trump’s stance, saying the joint drills could be brought back if negotiations with the North deteriorated.

“He (Trump) made it very clear that the condition precedent for the exercises not to proceed was a productive, good faith negotiations being ongoing,” Pompeo told reporters.

Pompeo also said he anticipates the US would next speak to North Korean officials “fairly quickly after we return to our home countries”, adding that he was “very confident” that some form of engagement between the two sides would take place in the next week. On Thursday, Pompeo will meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japan’s top envoy Taro Kono.

Tokyo has expressed some concern about the cancellation of military exercises.

On Wednesday, Japan’s Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera pointedly said the drills played a “vital role in East Asia’s security”. Pompeo will then travel to Beijing, North Korea’s main diplomatic ally.

World can ‘sleep well’ after summit: Trump

A jubilant-sounding President Donald Trump declared Wednesday that his “deal” with Kim Jong Un has ended North Korea’s nuclear threat and made the world safer, as he returned to Washington following the historic talks.

Even as experts weighed the implications of Trump’s Singapore summit with Kim, the US president struck a typically bullish note in a series of announcements.

“There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” he asserted on Twitter.

Trump added that everybody “can now feel much safer than the day I took office” and people could “sleep well tonight!”

In a joint statement, Kim pledged to “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” - a stock phrase favored by Pyongyang that stopped short of longstanding US demands for North Korea to give up its atomic arsenal in a “verifiable” and “irreversible” way.

But Trump confidently described the outcome - a joint statement with no binding terms - as a “deal” with North Korea and tweeted that there would be “no more rocket launches, nuclear testing or research!”

In North Korea, state media praised Kim for “opening a new chapter” in relations with the United States, and said Trump had accepted an invitation to visit the North.

Just months ago, Kim and Trump were trading threats and personal insults as the North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

Adam Schiff, a top US Democrat and staunch Trump critic, warned the standoff with Pyongyang was far from resolved.

“North Korea still has all its nuclear missiles, and we only got a vague promise of future denuclearization from a regime that can’t be trusted. North Korea is a real and present threat.

“So is a dangerously naive president,” Schiff said.

But Victor Cha, a former US pointman on North Korea, gave Trump more credit, writing in The New York Times: “Despite its many flaws, the Singapore summit represents the start of a diplomatic process that takes us away from the brink of war.”

‘Meeting of the century’

Pyongyang has reason to feel confident after the meeting, where Kim stood as an equal with Trump in front of their nations’ flags.

In North Korea, the official KCNA news agency described the summit as an “epoch-making meeting” that would help foster “a radical switchover in the most hostile (North Korea)-US relations.”

KCNA also asserted Trump had “expressed his intention” to lift sanctions against the North - something the US president had said would happen “when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor.”

With the headline: “Meeting of the century opens new history in DPRK-US relations,” the North’s ruling Workers Party official daily Rodong Sinmun splashed no fewer than 33 pictures across four of its usual six pages.

In Pyongyang, commuters crowded round the spread of images - the first most of them had seen of the summit. U Sung Tak, 79, said the future was looking “bright” because Kim was “leading the world’s political trend on the Korean peninsula, steering the wheel of history.”

Ordinary North Koreans consistently voice unequivocal support for the leadership when speaking to foreign media.

The Singapore summit was a major coup for an isolated and heavily sanctioned regime that has long craved international legitimacy, and whose autocratic leader stands accused of murdering opponents and members of his own family.

“Kim Jong Un got what he wanted at the Singapore Summit: the international prestige and respect of a one-on-one meeting with the American president, the legitimacy of North Korean flags hanging next to American flags in the background,” said Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center.

In his post-summit press conference, Trump made the surprise announcement that the US would halt joint military exercises with its security ally Seoul - something long sought by Pyongyang, which claims the drills are a rehearsal for invasion. He defended that decision Wednesday, tweeting: “We save a fortune by not doing war games, as long as we are negotiating in good faith - which both sides are!”

The Pentagon could not immediately provide an estimate of how much the drills cost.

Both Seoul and US military officials have said they had no idea the announcement was coming, while Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera warned the drills played a “vital role in East Asia’s security.”

Japan has nevertheless joined fellow world powers from China to the European Union and Russia in welcoming the summit - while cautioning it was only a first step towards resolving the stand-off with Pyongyang.

Echoing that stance, Akira Kawasaki of the ICAN anti-nuclear group said the summit was “a great photo-op,” but that “the substance needs to be followed up.”