President Donald Trump and North Korea’s “chairman” Kim Jong-un met in Singapore. Their unlikely, on-off-on summit simultaneously changed everything—and nothing.
Although the summit is an inevitable target for snark, it nevertheless was a positive development. Most importantly, the talks were a welcome change from the hostile posturing and war threats which dominated relations between the two governments last year. Instead of insulting one another, the two leaders committed to peaceful cooperation and denuclearization.
Because of the summit, South Koreans, whose attitude toward the North Korean dictator has changed dramatically, would be in no mood to risk pyrotechnics launched by Washington against a North which no longer looked so threatening. And how for the president to explain to the American people that aggressive war must be launched against someone he not long before embraced?
What to do from here? Establish regular diplomatic channels—best would be to inaugurate formal relations. That should be viewed as a form of communication, not a reward. Imagine having no contact with the Soviets during the Cold War. Had Chinese and U.S. diplomats talked in 1950, perhaps the two countries could have avoided a clash which prolonged the Korean War by more than two years.
Negotiations should begin on a peace treaty. That would be a significant symbolic step to demonstrate that the United States is not interested in forcing regime change in the North.
For seventy years North Korea has been a seemingly intractable problem. President Trump deserves credit for his willingness to ignore critics even within his own party and meet Kim. Now comes the hard part. The president must demonstrate similar independence and determination in making the tough compromises necessary to strike more detailed agreements with North Korea, especially one to fully denuclearize.
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