Let’s begin with the good news. Tuesday’s Singapore summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, could have been a disaster, and it wasn’t. What’s more, there remains the hope — slender, but real — that the conversation and resulting joint statement by the two leaders could be a springboard to future diplomacy.
If that happens, and if the diplomacy grows to include measurable commitments to change by North Korea, so long propped up by propaganda and prison camps, then Tuesday’s summit could become the breakthrough moment Trump has declared it to be.
But aspirations are flimsy material upon which to lean, but for now high hopes are all we have been left with. In his eagerness to make history, the president conceded much. What we have to show for it is exceedingly small, at least so far. Certainly, North Korea has made no firm commitments.
Kim and Trump did agree Tuesday to keep their subordinates talking, and to work together to return the remains of POWs or MIA soldiers from the Korean War. Kim has pledged to continue working for the “total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” — a welcome goal, but one still shrouded in mystery.
In return for these vague promises, Trump gave a lot.
To begin with, in agreeing to meet personally with Kim at all, Trump elevated Kim’s status enormously. For weeks, the world has seen Kim engage in a kind of high-profile shuttle diplomacy between top leaders of China, Russia and South Korea. His elevated status is a direct benefit of Trump’s decision to meet with him on equal diplomatic footing.
That imbalance continued on Tuesday. To the shock of the Pentagon and our allies in Seoul, Trump said he promised Kim that the United States would end joint military exercises with South Korea. He explained that they’re too expensive anyway, and besides, they are quite provocative to North Korea.
Trump said that he’d like to bring home America’s troops altogether, but that it’s too soon to discuss that. He singled out Kim for high praise, defending him as “very talented” and noted that perhaps “only 1 in 100,000 people” on the planet could have succeeded as he has.
Against all this talk, and all these concessions, there was no mention of human rights. No mention of the gulags, the propaganda, the persecution millions of his people live under. To praise Kim’s survival skills is strange talk from an American president, given that he did so without noting Kim inherited his position as absolute monarch of a country ruled by fear, murder and constant surveillance. He has continued this, murdering rivals and family members in horrific ways, and keeping a population of millions in abject thraldom.
As talks continue, we can only hope that Trump realizes that any meaningful peace will have to address the human rights outrages that prop up his new negotiating partner.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS