It was a beginning.
United States President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un met in Singapore last Tuesday and signed a document in which Trump pledged “security guarantees” to North Korea and Kim reiterated his commitment to “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The two promised to “build a lasting and stable peace regime.”
The agreement had few specifics outside an agreement to repatriate the remains of prisoners of war and those missing in action during the Korean War of 1950-53. There was no forging of a formal end to that war. There were no specifics about Kim’s vow to end “denuclearizatrion” of the entire peninsula nor details of Trump’s “security guarantees.”
But Kim said the meeting was a “good prelude for peace” and Trump vowed that “working together, we will get it taken care of.” They had “decided to leave the past behind,” Kim said.
The past that they vowed to leave behind was one in which millions of people lived in the shadow of nuclear war. North Korea said it had developed nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles that could reach the US mainland and certainly the countries nearby. If it should start such a war, the US could wipe it out of existence after suffering from the first strike. And in the process, nearby countries – South Korea, Japan, China, and even the Philippines, would suffer from the fallout.
Succeeding agreements will have to flesh out the basic one reached in Singapore. The commitment to denuclearization must be spelled out with specific actions that can be verified. In turn, the US must assure North Korea’s security. In the words of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the US will take action to give the North Korea “sufficient certainty” that denuclearization will not end badly for them.
The whole world watched the meeting in Singapore for it was a defining moment in the history of nations with great capacity for destruction. It was described by some as comparable to US President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 which ended the hostility between the two nations and to US President Ronald Reagan’s meeting with the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, soon after which the Cold War ended.
Many more meetings and negotiations will be needed to provide the specifics of agreement. “We will meet again” Trump said after the signing ceremony in Singapore. “We will meet many times.”
But the first step to peace was taken last Tuesday in Singapore. It was a good first step, a good beginning.