Notwithstanding the massive scepticism among American and other Western specialists and experts about the true gain from the Singapore summit of US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Tuesday, it is hard to play down the significance of the first meeting between a sitting US President and a leader of North Korea, a nuclear weapons and ICBM-wielding power that threatens not just close US allies, South Korea and Japan, which are its neighbours, but the American mainland itself.
The sceptics concede history has been made. But they say the key points in the joint declaration signed between Mr Trump and Mr Kim are not new, and that the DPRK has reneged in the past on agreements on the same points reached with the Americans. The US leader was also criticised for ending military exercises, which he called wargames. He said these were very expensive to hold and were “provocative” when he was seeking ways to get back on a peace track with the North.
Asked at his post-summit press conference if he had not placed North Korea’s leader on an “equal footing” with the US President and needlessly raised his status, Mr Trump said he differed with such a perspective. He said he considered it “an honour” to make every effort for peace, and said “de-nuclearisation” topped his agenda.
Mr Trump underlined he had every faith that Mr Kim would deliver on his promise. A lot of background work had already been done, he insisted. He said US sanctions against DPRK would remain until a point was reached when Washington was confident North Korea had scaled back its nuclear weapons capability to the stage from which it would find it hard to revive the programme even if it wanted to.
The difference between Mr Trump and his predecessors is that they faced a DPRK that did not possess proven ICBM capability — meaning missiles to deliver the bomb to the US mainland. As such, the incumbent President has found it expedient to go partly on the trust quotient in the expectation that Mr Kim would welcome the chance to exchange nuclear weapons for massive economic aid.
Any de-nuclearisation, including in the Korean peninsula, is a long-drawn-out process by its very nature. That can be said to have kickstarted. Mr Trump now expects Mr Kim to immediately take some encouraging steps upon returning to Pyongyang. The Americans, as well as South Korea and Japan, which face the North Korean missiles, will doubtless wait to see what he actually does. China too will be relieved if DPRK gave up the bomb, Mr Trump noted. In short, if positive signs emerge, important economic and political changes may be expected in the entire region. Credit goes to the summiteers for having brought us close to ending the final remnants of the Cold War in the East.