The two men aren't trading insults and promising hellfire. It's a start.
No shortage of President Donald Trump's critics immediately panned Tuesday's summit in Singapore with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and accused the U.S. of getting steamrolled — which looks to be accurate. The oft-hyperbolic American president used words such as "historic" to describe the confab and heaped praise on a brutal strongman whom, a few months ago, Trump called "little rocket man."
In reality, as of Wednesday, it's simply too early to tell if the on-again, off-again confab in Singapore will amount to much of real value. What's true, however, is as of right now, the two men atop nuclear nations aren't locked in a contest of brinkman's chicken.
The joint agreement both men signed is utterly bereft of specifics. Nowhere does it contain the "permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantling" (CVID) of North Korea's nuclear arsenal that the Trump administration's security experts had demanded. Instead, North Korea "commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," a pledge the rogue regime has repeatedly violated over the past two decades. In return, the remains of Americans killed in the Korean War will be repatriated. Jointly, the two powers agreed to "build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula."
There's not a lot to latch onto here. There's no framework for monitoring North Korea's nuclear program. Nor is there much of a foundation for confidence due to the agreement's loose language about future relations. U.S. ally South Korea was stunned after Trump announced he promised to cancel war games on the peninsula.
All that said, diplomacy is usually preferable to tossing a powder keg on a fire pit. One can only hope that, in the weeks and months ahead, the technical realities of actual U.S.-North Korean relations don't force the two notoriously reactionary leaders into an even more perilous stare down. The summit — the likes of which numerous past presidents have avoided — could also birth an unwelcome precedent for other would-be tyrants who see nukes as a way to legitimacy.
There was never a chance that Tuesday's summit would be considered in a vacuum, particularly after Trump's performance at this past weekend's G7 in Canada. The U.S. president showed up in Quebec, threw a tantrum and left early, tossing insults and threats in Air Force One's wake. Days later, he's lauding the exploits of a dictator who uses death camps to solidify his grip on power.
Yeah, there was no way that goes unnoticed.
But, even so, the increasingly aggressive posture between Pyongyang and Washington — some of which of Trump's own design — could not continue if war was to be averted, a conflict that would no doubt include China in some capacity.
As of Wednesday, the tensions have eased. As of Wednesday, an admittedly confused global political network can catch its collective breath. As of Wednesday, President Trump has shown himself willing to sit down and chat, if only with a tyrant.
There are countless potential long-term ramifications for Trump's decision to fly to Singapore and engage Kim Jong Un. The benefits will live and die in the very details for which the policy averse U.S. president left to his underlings. The situation could devolve quickly. Or, just maybe, seven decades of tension begin to ease and Trump gets the win he so desperately desires.
We, like everyone else, must wait and see.