Trump hits it off with Kim at summit…
President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un ended their historic summit in Singapore with a 4-point statement establishing diplomatic relations between the two longtime enemies, a pledge to work toward “a lasting and stable peace” and the eventual denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the repatriation of American POW/MIA remains from the Korean War. In a dramatically choreographed entrance before a wall of North Korean and American flags, the leaders of the two countries met with outstretched hands—a moment that Kim acknowledged to Trump would strike some as “a scene from a fantasy, from a science-fiction movie.” Only months after raising fears of nuclear conflict by trading theatrical threats and personal insults, Trump and Kim held a 40-minute, one-on-one meeting with only translators present. The U.S. president then showed Kim a simulated movie trailer on his iPad depicting the pair as history-remaking heroes with a chance “to shine in the sun.”
The summit produced a vague promise by Kim to “complete denuclearization,” with no timetable or process for removing his regime’s arsenal of nuclear weapons and ICBMs. Trump said that those details would require “vigorous negotiations,” including perhaps another summit meeting, and conceded it could take years. “He trusts me, and I trust him,” Trump said. In a stunning concession that reportedly blindsided the government of South Korea as well as the U.S. military, Trump pledged to end the U.S.–South Korea joint military “war games,” which he described as “expensive” and “very provocative.”
Trump, the first sitting president to meet with a North Korean leader, said it was his “honor” and that he and Kim shared “great chemistry,” while also praising the third-generation despot’s intelligence, toughness, and “great personality.” Trump brushed off a reporter’s question about North Korean human rights abuses, saying, “It’s rough in a lot of places.”
What the editorials said
Trump deserves credit for getting the two adversaries talking, said The New York Times. But the president who previously demanded immediate, “verifiable, and irreversible” denuclearization co-signed a “strikingly spare” statement that contains even fewer commitments than North Korea has made to previous administrations. The Kim regime eventually reneged on all of those commitments. This meeting “was, without question, a triumph for Kim Jong Un,” said The Washington Post. The “cruel and unpredictable” dictator “was able to parade on the global stage as a legitimate statesman,” and persuaded Trump to relegate the U.S.–South Korean security relationship to a bargaining chip. In return, he gave up nothing but a promise of more talks. Not bad for a 34-year-old “who oversees a gulag comparable to those of Hitler and Stalin.”
Trump is betting that flattering Kim will eliminate the North Korean nuclear threat to the U.S. mainland, said The Wall Street Journal. But “if the past is a guide,” this is only the beginning of a “painful and endless negotiation” lasting years during which Kim will demand sanctions relief and other U.S. concessions at every stage, while acting deceptively. Trump should recall his own criticisms of the Iran nuclear deal and insist that North Korea permit nothing less than “on-demand inspections everywhere.”
What the columnists said
The summit was a “mesmerizing spectacle utterly lacking in substance,” said Max Boot in The Washington Post. Trump appears to be angling for a Nobel Peace Prize, but the president who “can barely stand to be in the same room with the leaders of the United States’ democratic allies” was quite comfortable establishing what he called a “special bond” with a man who “enslaves his own citizens.” The supposed master negotiator was so eager for a happy ending that he demanded nothing, said William Saletan in Slate.com. Why? His real goal was to put on a big, entertaining show designed to prove he’s smarter and better than previous American presidents. The “toothless” agreement he signed is no historic milestone. “It’s a con, and you’re the mark.”
Trump and Kim have a lot in common, said Anne Applebaum in WashingtonPost.com. They both “create their own versions of reality,” backed by “propaganda machines” and blindly loyal supporters. Both saw this summit as a way to bolster their image and power back home. If you think “a general improvement of relations with North Korea is a desirable end in itself,” said Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com, then this summit was a success. If you think that “an American president heaping praise on an evil dictator in exchange for worthless promises is grotesque,” then it was a failure.
Only time will tell if this summit achieved anything of value, said Byron York in the Washington Examiner. But give Trump “credit for trying a new approach to an intractable problem.” War with North Korea was “unthinkable,” and then Trump “started thinking about it.” Before too long, Kim was eager to sit down at the negotiating table. Perhaps Trump’s strategy will work, perhaps it won’t. But disruption is better than the status quo.
The U.S. and North Korea will need to agree on the definition of “denuclearization,” said Thomas Countryman and Daryl G. Kimball in USA Today. The North Koreans will have to stop all nuclear and missile testing, freeze fissile material production, and “provide a full and complete declaration” of all nuclear weapons and sites. Ensuring that the Hermit Kingdom is complying will be extremely difficult, since it has dozens of nuclear and missile sites, many of them hidden. “The hardest part about disarming North Korea may be knowing where to start,” said Jonathan Cheng in The Wall Street Journal. Our intelligence services have estimated that the regime has built 10 to 20 nuclear bombs, with fissile material for up to 40 more. It also has about 70 missiles and stocks of chemical and biological weapons. “And it’s all hidden around a mountainous country about the size of Pennsylvania.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from Newscom, USGS, Getty