Trump-Kim accord is big on symbolism, short on specifics
Considering the rarity of President Donald Trump departing any recent summit meeting with a smile on his face, Tuesday’s session with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was remarkable for the mere fact that it happened — and ended cordially. Whether it proves a historic achievement depends on whether Kim honors his commitments.
The world has ample reason to be skeptical. But this is no time for cynicism. Tuesday’s summit was the first since the 1950-53 Korean War. There is talk of a trip by Kim to Washington. The threat of nuclear confrontation has dramatically diminished.
That’s cause for high praise, especially considering the roller-coaster relationship between these two mercurial leaders and the long exchange of public insults that preceded this meeting.
It proves that measured discourse and cautious diplomacy have a far greater potential to yield positive results than threats and childish name-calling.
Many aspects of their agreement require clarification. Their joint statement didn’t specify what “complete denuclearization” means.
North Korea might dismantle its existing arsenal of nuclear weapons yet retain the ability to restart its program should its relations with the West begin to sour. It could mean that North Korea retains a peaceful nuclear-generating capacity using uranium enriched from outside sources.
Interestingly, the 2015 six-nation accord that halted Iran’s nuclear program contained far more specificity and detailed inspection regimes than what Trump worked out with Kim.
Yet Trump has repeatedly denounced the Iran accord as a “disaster” for having failed to deliver instant results. This accord is somehow better, he says — mainly because he’s the one who negotiated it.
Trump’s weak grasp of the specifics remains worrisome. One reporter asked how North Korean denuclearization would be verified through inspections. His answer was beyond vague:
“Well, it’s going to be achieved by having a lot of people there. And as we develop a certain trust ... we’re going to have a lot of people there, and we’re going to be working with them on a lot of other things. But this is complete denuclearization of North Korea. And it will be verified.”
Trump described their 437-word joint statement as a “very, very comprehensive document.” It was, at best, a short list of bullet points whose details remain to be negotiated.
Trump also surprised South Korea and the Pentagon by announcing the halt of war games scheduled for August. He correctly described those games as “provocative” and “inappropriate.” But what he got from Kim in exchange for the military stand-down isn’t quite clear.
Kim can stand before his severely oppressed people knowing his legitimacy has been confirmed by the world’s most powerful leader. Trump can return home claiming to have achieved something his predecessors couldn’t. Symbolically, both emerge victors.
But the Trump-Kim rollercoaster remains on its tracks. Lots of ups, downs, twists and turns are still to come.