For three hours yesterday, United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met at a Singapore resort hotel in an unprecedented summit that has reset fractious relations between the two nuclear-armed nations. And while the summit was heavy on pointed moments, it has — at least on paper — offered the prospect of a Korean peninsula that is committed to peace.
On his part, Kim committed his nation to the complete demilitarisation of the Korean peninsula, while the US offered a security pledge that would eliminate the threat of conflict. One immediate effect of this was that Washington has cancelled its military exercises with South Korea. Both Kim and Trump have also committed themselves to the peace overtures agreed between Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea when they met in a historic meeting at the Demilitarised Zone in April. Indeed, this aspect of the Singapore summit serves as a timely reminder that North and South remain technically in a state of war with the Korean War ending nearly 65 years ago in a cessation of hostilities.
It is always hard to fathom the immediate results of any much-anticipated meeting between adversaries. The very fact that both Trump and Kim met is a success in itself, given that the summit seemed as if it would be cancelled — a threat that underlined the distrust between Washington and Pyongyang. Yes, there is a commitment to denuclearisation on the peninsula, but that is one that both the US and North Korea have signed before in 2005. Certainly, the fact that both men met within six months of threatening to unleash nuclear devastation from their atomic arsenals shows that progress has been made.
There is a reality too, however, that the regime in Pyongyang has a long and chequered history of promising concessions and then reneging on them — and that 2005 agreement is a casualty of Korean convenience in that regard. It ought to be remembered that it has taken the imposition of severe economic and financial sanctions against Pyongyang to get it to the table — along with the threat of military action. Yes, the Singapore summit marked an opportunity to reset relations. But real progress can only be measured by verifiable and unfettered inspections, and by adherence to specific targets and goals. The threat of those sanctions must remain a presence now moving forward. It’s one thing to commit to denuclearisation, another to adhere to that commitment away from the pomp and circumstance of summitry.