Our view: Trump-Kim accord yields hope — and skepticism
The world has certainly come a long way since last year, when North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (the “little rocket man”) threatened an atomic attack on the United States and President Trump (the “dotard”) responded by saying that his nuclear button was a lot bigger than Kim’s.
Their just-concluded summit in Singapore was great theater, and a welcome relief from all the warmongering. The imagery of a U.S. president standing side-by-side with a North Korean despot was an astonishing sight that few would have predicted just months ago. The agreement signed by Kim and Trump was historic and potentially groundbreaking.
Any hopefulness emerging from the summit, however, has to be leavened with a heavy dose of skepticism.
Kim committed “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but the details are murky and indefinite. So far, there is no timetable and no plan for verifying that the brutal regime is unwinding its cherished nuclear program.
The world has been down this road before. In 1994, for example, Kim Jong Il, father of the current leader, agreed with President Clinton to close the Yongbyon nuclear facility, the main producer of fissile material. That agreement lasted for all of two years.
Will this one be any different? Hard to say.
Perhaps most troubling about the Kim-Trump agreement is how much the United States has already given up. This includes the U.S. pledge to halt what Trump called “provocative” military exercises in the region and, more significant, Trump’s willingness to legitimize Kim on the world stage.
“He’s a funny guy, he’s very smart, he’s a great negotiator. He loves his people,” Trump told Voice of America contributor Greta Van Susteren — words of flattery that, if spoken by a Democratic president, would have Republicans howling.
The Singapore summit came about largely because of Trump’s egocentric approach to foreign policy. Prior presidents started negotiations with North Korea at lower levels and allowed them to rise only as progress was made. It’s possible that Trump’s top-down approach might prove more effective.
But it is just as likely to be an impediment. Trump’s agree-first, negotiatelater approach carried an air of desperation. Having angered many of America’s longtime allies and facing difficult midterm elections, Trump needed a diplomatic victory. Kim, too, was looking to enhance his standing back home.
One of the great ironies is that a successful Korea deal — the dismantling of a nuclear program in return for economic security — would look a lot like President Obama’s Iran agreement, which Trump recently trashed.
Whether the Singapore deal represents sustainable progress toward reducing the risk of nuclear war might not be known for months or even years. For now, it’s worth letting the process play out, as there remain no good military options on the Korean Peninsula.
Signed by Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.