It was just the first step on a journey that will be long if it doesn’t derail, but President Trump’s one-day summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was indeed a start.
Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” a statement said. In exchange, Washington “committed to provide security guarantees” to the North.
The sides will also work toward “stable peace” on the peninsula, and Pyongyang will move to return the remains of all US soldiers who died there in the Korean War.
Trump said Kim had also agreed informally to destroy his missile engine test sites. And as a show of good faith, the United States will suspend its joint war-game exercises with South Korea.
Now comes the hard part. North Korea’s famous for promising to scrap its nukes in exchange for concessions and then breaking those promises once it gets what it wants.
But Trump and his team (national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, etc.) are keenly aware of Pyongyang’s record and vow not to give up anything significant until the North has made good on its side of the bargain: complete, verified, irreversible denuclearization.
Which is why, as Trump stressed, sanctions will remain in place as the process moves forward.
Those war games, too, can be resumed if Kim reneges far more easily than, say, the UN sanctions against Iran that were lifted under the flawed nuke deal with that nation.
Make no mistake: The challenge ahead is enormous. Washington must be able to determine exactly what nuclear weapons and facilities the North has now, then verify that they’ve all been destroyed and, finally, ensure that Kim & Co. aren’t resuming their nuke program later.
The odds are long against achieving such goals with a regime as devious, dishonest and dangerous as Pyongyang. Kim, after all, has spent vast amounts of time, money and bluster promoting his nukes. Why abandon them permanently now?