Our view: Trump-Kim ac­cord yields hope — and skep­ti­cism

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS | OPINION -

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.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Signed by Don­ald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

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