As we go to print, it is morning in Singapore and the historic summit between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is underway.
As our special correspondent Reuven Borchardt reports in these pages, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted Monday that President Donald Trump will agree to nothing less than North Korea’s complete denuclearization, and is prepared to, in return, guarantee the North Korean regime’s security.
Pompeo said the talks between the two countries have been moving well, and that the administration expects that the talks “will come to their logical conclusion even more quickly than we had anticipated.”
So quickly in fact, that President Trump is now planning to leave Singapore right after the summit on Tuesday night, instead of Wednesday morning, as had been previously planned.
In the meanwhile, foreign correspondents, along with mere tourists, have been reporting on glimpses of Kim Jong Un as he enters and exits the lobby of the city’s St. Regis Hotel, craning their necks to see the boy dictator of the hermit kingdom pass by on the other side of a grim, forbidding cordon of armed bodyguards.
One hapless fellow was accosted by “hotel staff and a stern North Korean official” after he was spotted sneaking a photo of Kim on his phone. “Looking sweaty and nervous, he deleted the photos from his phone and swiftly left the lobby,” according to the Los Angeles Times, giving readers a glimpse of what life’s like at the summit.
The scarcity of hard news at this early point has forced otherwise respectable journalists and commentators to resort to reporting on such topics as which plane Kim will fly in (for the record, it was a Chinese 747), whether his squadron of bodyguards would be jogging alongside his car, as they’ve been seen before (they did) and similar epoch-making details.
Analysis of the pending summit has focused to a large extent on Mr. Trump’s disdain for the elaborately scripted encounters that his predecessors have favored — or submitted to. According to reports, he will not be burdened by sheaves of briefing documents, folders bristling with tabs and annotated with pink highlighter.
And, except presumably for translators, the president will brave the unmediated presence of the North Korean leader without the usual supporting cast of aides and advisers.
Professional diplomats, veteran correspondents and all right-thinking Trump critics and Trump detractors, are horrified right down to their touchscreens. Who knows what horrible things might come of this? How, they ask, can you improvise such solemn responsibilities?
But, as has been pointed out, the conventional approach of four U.S. presidents before this has not yielded an answer to the conundrum of North Korea. The unconventional approach of President Trump, however, might, and it is arguably worth taking the chance.
Mr. Trump himself has said that a great deal will depend upon sizing up the North Korean leader in the very first moments.
“I think I’m very well-prepared,” he told reporters on Thursday. “I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s about attitude.”
This is true. At least in the sense that if Kim’s attitude is that peace and prosperity are more important than nuclear weapons, then a real deal can be struck. If not, not.
But for all the talk about diplomacy by gut feeling, White House officials have said that the president has been preparing for the summit for months.
Besides, the presidential entourage contains a sufficiency of career diplomats, Asia experts and lawyers to scrutinize anything that Trump and Kim might sign, from a bland communique about friendship between their nations to a memorandum of understanding on denuclearization. Nothing of substance will be committed to paper on a whim.
Meanwhile, some 2,500 credentialed reporters await the opportunity to report on a historic pronouncement.
They, and all of us, may be disappointed. The summit may not produce anything dramatic or significant. It may not lead to the eventual denuclearization of North Korea and a new era of sanity. It may turn out that Kim’s “attitude” will not be conducive to positive change.
But even if so, it would still have one distinct advantage. After the Singapore Summit, it can never be said that the United States did not make every reasonable effort to achieve peace on the Korean peninsula. That itself makes the whole thing worth it.