Stakes are higher now
It seems that President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un established some level of trust with each other during their meeting Tuesday in Singapore. Now comes the second, critical half of the equation: verification that Pyongyang does what Kim says it will.
What happened Tuesday was historic. No doubt about that. Never before have the leaders of our country and North Korea sat face to face to discuss our differences.
But there ends the unprecedented part of what is happening. North Korean leaders have pledged to back away from bellicosity in the past. They have agreed, in return for U.S. economic aid, to reduce their stocks of weapons.
They have been lying. In every case, under both Republican and Democrat presidents, North Korean leaders have reaped the benefits of their pledges while failing to keep them.
What makes this time different?
For one thing, the stakes are higher. Now, Kim has at his disposal a substantial stock of nuclear weapons, along with long-range missiles. Miniaturizing a nuclear device to be carried on one of those rockets is a relatively short step.
Another critical difference is Trump himself. For months, he has matched Kim’s aggressive rhetoric, word for word. He has made it clear that if North Korea poses a threat to the United States or our interests, military action is possible.
In effect, Trump is making Kim understand that nuclear weapons and long-range missiles may be a liability, not an asset.
So Kim has agreed to “denuclearization.” The process of making that happen should begin soon, Trump said Tuesday.
That means we are back to square one, as they say.
By that, we mean that Kim has merely made a promise he and his late father used in the past to pry concessions from the United States. Verifying that he truly is eliminating his nuclear weapons program will be critical.
And verifying does not mean accepting pledges from Pyongyang. It does not mean rejoicing over destruction of a missile test site that was virtually useless, anyway. It does not mean relying on the International Atomic Energy Agency to report on what is going on in North Korea.
It means qualified U.S. inspectors with virtually unfettered access to North Korea, looking under every rock to ensure Kim is keeping up his end of the bargain.
If that can be done, the meeting this week will go down in history as an important step toward world peace. If it cannot be achieved, the world will be reminded once again that duplicity is the Kim dynasty’s guiding philosophy.