Trump-Kim ac­cord is big on sym­bol­ism, short on specifics

The Korea Times - - OPINION - The above edi­to­rial ap­peared Con­tent Agency, LLC. in St. Louis Post-Dis­patch. It was dis­trib­uted by Tri­bune

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.

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