Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are to meet each other in Singapore on Tuesday for talks whose outcome would have huge implications on regional and global security and the future of a country that has often been called the most reclusive and troublesome in the world.
The summit is historic in that the leaders of former war adversaries are meeting for the first time. The fact that Trump and Kim are meeting in neutral territory symbolizes the reality faced by the two men.
What’s good for now is that the meeting has survived all odds, not least the two strongmen’s brinkmanship and disruption tactics that had sometimes cast dark clouds over the summit itself.
North Korea resorted to its usual brinkmanship, threatening to “reconsider” the meeting in protest against the US push for a Libyan-style quick, unilateral dismantlement of its nuclear capabilities. It did not work this time.
It was Trump, no less an assertive and changeable dealer than any other -- look at what he did at the Group of Seven summit last weekend -- who took charge of the tug-of-war by calling off – not just threatening to do so -- the meeting in no time. Kim had to back down.
It is ironic that Trump’s make-or-break style was effective in bringing Kim to the negotiating table for a potential peaceful solution to the decadeslong nuclear problem.
As they set foot into the Capella Hotel on Sentosa Island, both Trump and Kim should leave behind much of what they have become famous for -- intimidation, bluffing, abruptness and disruption, among other things.
Their unalterable goal, of course, ought to be reaching a full agreement on a concrete road map -- not a compromise or vague goal -- for the quick, complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of the North’s nuclear capability. The North must not be allowed to drag its feet as it has in the past.
As Trump indicated several times, the two sides may not be able to resolve everything in a single meeting and they may agree to hold more meetings, but the Singapore meeting must lay an immovable deadline for a complete denuclearization at minimum.
In relation, ending the 1950-53 Korean War, as Trump advocates, could be the first step toward the two sides putting an end to decades of hostility and paving the way to establish a permanent peace regime that would replace the armistice agreement. Trump also hinted at normalization of relations with the North, which he rightfully said could be possible “when everything is complete.”
What should not be forgotten is that all steps for peace must be preceded by the North’s fast, full denuclearization and removal of threats from other weapons of mass destruction like missiles and chemical and biological weapons.
There are still lingering concerns -- especially given their backgrounds and styles -- that the two men who are desperate for some political windfalls from the summit may make a Faustian bargain at best.
This concern has ground because, besides their avowed goal of denuclearizing the North, each of the two has ulterior motives for the meeting that the whole world will be watching.
Trump wants to be shown as a seasoned dealmaker and to find a resolution to the nuclear conundrum that none of his predecessors could do as a showcase of his foreign policy achievements. The upcoming midterm elections and special counsel Robert Mueller investigations might be on his mind when he shakes hands with Kim.
For his own part, Kim might believe the Singapore meeting could help him dispel the image of a ruthless dictator of a rogue, outcast country and earn it the status of a normal country. He may well believe his coming out of isolation will help him in his ultimate goal of consolidating power for a lifetime without fear of regime change.
These are some of the points we need to bear in mind when we follow the two leaders’ activities and statements, with the hope that both will be more sensible than usual and take the first substantial steps to peace together.