Predictably , the summit between Kim Jong Un and President Trump is back on. That’s good news and Trump deserves credit for getting us here. Still, the president cannot afford to bask in false glory. If peace was won by summits alone, it would be Neville Chamberlain and not Winston Churchill whose name finds reverence in our ears.
Trump’s first cause for caution is the North Korean representative who was sent to meet him at the White House on Friday. After all, Kim Yong Chol is a manipulator, not an ally of peace. His presence signals that as the summit approaches the North Koreans will work with the Chinese to move Trump to their agenda.
To that end, expect Trump to find heavy praise from President Xi Jinping of China in the coming days. Xi will declare Trump a peacemaker, a courageous leader, and a master dealmaker who did what no one else could do. In tandem, expect Kim to say that he hopes Trump will become his friend.
But what you should look for is what will not be said – namely, any positive commitment from Kim on what the summit’s success depends on (at least from an American perspective).
That success depends on the post-summit commencement of scaled inspections of nuclear sites and interviews with North Korean missile officials. And while the North Koreans might offer some limited access to international inspectors, Kim does not want wide-ranging inspections of the kind that will truly afford international understanding of what he has been up to. In turn, Kim and Xi hope that the five-star majesty of Singapore and their red carpet treatment of Trump will be enough to earn Trump’s declaration of a paper victory.
Trump has scored an impressive diplomatic win by getting to this point. Kim Jong Un would not have agreed to travel to Singapore if he did not believe that Trump was serious about being willing to use force against him. I sincerely doubt that former President Barack Obama would have been able to do so.
Yet successful diplomacy is not ultimately measured by smiles and summits, it is measured by sustaining outcomes. Trump’s focus must be laser-tight to the pursuit of those outcomes. Because behind Kim’s letters and emissaries lurks the near-term completion of a North Korean nuclear warhead capable of surviving atmospheric re-entry and striking Washington, D.C.