This week’s meeting between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore was certainly historic. It was a step in the right direction, even as there were numerous missteps that led to the summit.
Tensions between the two countries—and the rest of the world, really—escalated with the two leaders’ tough talk as recently as several months ago. Kim and Trump traded insults, resorted to calling each other “mentally deranged and rocket man,” and given their hyperbolic personalities, out-menaced each other, at least in words.
But on Wednesday the two leaders were all smiles, leading us all to believe that the improbable could be, well probable.
The communique said the meeting was comprehensive, in-depth and a sincere exchange of opinions, and that Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK. In return, Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
The two countries also committed to hold follow-on negotiations to implement the outcomes of the summit.
Kim and Trump, according to the communique, committed to cooperate for the development of new US-DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.
These are big words that inspire confidence and hope. Life is already difficult without the threat of war and annihilation looming above people’s heads.
Now that the summit has ended, the photos have been circulated and the euphoric feelings have ebbed, the natural question to be asked is, what next?
More than ever, honesty and good faith will be key. Embellishments, exaggerations, or any attempts to make the summit appear like a win for a single person is likely to have negative impact.
For instance, Trump announced in the press conference after the summit that the US would stop military exercises with Seoul even as this was not mentioned in the document they signed. North Korea has always been adamant about these exercises saying these could be a rehearsal for invasion.
Critics also say Kim used the summit to “legitimize” himself in the world stage, by meeting the US leader.
“Denuclearization” is a big word but its actual meaning and scope are even more daunting.
The next few weeks and months will be tricky, and sensitive. One false move, or one incendiary word, can negate all the gains that have been made.
In the end, as in every deal, the details—not the lofty words or the big smiles during press conferences—will spell the difference between success and failure.