Sometime after 9 am on June 12, at the swank Capella Hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa Island, President Donald Trump will shake hands with Chairman Kim Jong-un, the youthful dictator of North Korea. Their symbolic gesture will shatter decades of hostility between the United States and the communist state and—if all goes well—usher in a new era of peace in Korea and Northeast Asia.
“The summit is all ready to go,” Trump announced Thursday at the White House. “We’ve been preparing for a long time.” He said the summit meetings will be “very fruitful,” but must end with Kim agreeing to disarm. “They have to de-nuke,” he insisted. “If they don’t denuclearize, that will not be acceptable.”
The unprecedented meeting is the direct result of a diplomatic initiative Kim launched in January with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. It culminated on April 27 with a joint declaration to end “the Cold War relic of division and confrontation” through the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. In March, Kim’s offer to meet Trump was conveyed by senior South Korean officials, making Moon a mediator between Washington and Kim’s government in Pyongyang.
“This isn’t a charm offensive, this isn’t some sort of tactical trick,” Joel Wit, a former US negotiator with North Korea, said in response to critics who claim Trump and Moon are being “played” by Kim Jong-un. “There is enormous momentum in Pyongyang behind what they’re doing.” Wit, who is a senior fellow and director of 38 North, a research institute in Washington, spoke this week at a press briefing sponsored by the Stimson Center.
A likely outcome of the Trump-Kim encounter—which is already being called “the summit of the century”—is a joint declaration ending the state of war and transforming the 1953 armistice that ended the fighting into a permanent peace treaty. That would set the stage for an agreement to end North Korea’s nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs, which the United States has viewed for years as a strategic threat. “We could sign an agreement” to end the war, Trump said Thursday. “We’re looking at it.”
For the summit to be a success, however, the Trump administration expects North Korea to announce a firm timetable for disarmament and publicly commit to an international system of verification. In return, Washington is apparently prepared to lift economic sanctions and agree to the full normalization of political and economic relations that North Korea has long sought with the United States.