Trump-Kim summit

Singapore summit should lead to calming of ties

A first-ever meeting between a US and North Korean leader is bound to raise expectations, but the gap in demands is too wide to be resolved in one go and tough bargaining lies ahead

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 5:42am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 5:42am

Not for years has a meeting of two leaders attracted as much international attention as that in Singapore on Tuesday of US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Barely six months ago they were hurling insults at one another and the threat of armed conflict seemed real.

But a remarkable series of events helped along by China have brought the two men to the negotiating table, and the culmination of months of diplomacy and drama is about to unfold.

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Expectations of a landmark deal should not be too high given the levels of animosity and mistrust, although it is to be at least hoped that the minimum outcome is an agreement to work towards an easing of tension and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.

There is good reason for guarded optimism; Trump and Kim have both voiced a desire to chart a positive direction for relations. Kim’s eye is on his country’s sanctions-hit economy and Trump’s is on his image and political longevity through upcoming midterm elections and a second presidential term.

The changed tone is a welcome shift after the North’s nuclear and missile tests, and exchanging of insults and posturing that seemed destined to spark a war.

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But whatever the driving forces, the tempestuousness and unpredictability of the leaders mean there is every need for realism.

A first-ever meeting between a US and North Korean leader is bound to raise expectations of an equally significant outcome, such as a peace deal.

But the gap in demands is too wide to be resolved at a single summit and tough bargaining lies ahead. The United States seeks the North’s dismantling of its nuclear weapons and missile programmes, destruction of fissile material and international inspections to ensure compliance.

Pyongyang has promised denuclearisation, but it will not so easily give up what it took so long to develop, and it apparently seeks an end to the US military alliance with South Korea that will rid the peninsula of all nuclear arms.

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Trump has uncharacteristically moderated his language since accepting Kim’s offer of the summit in March, describing it as a “get-to-know-you situation”. There may be more, or less, but whatever happens today, a calming of ties to establish a dialogue process is the least we should expect.