They came. They met. They left.
In case you missed it, the U.S-North Korea summit is over. After great anticipation and drama, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Singapore for the long-awaited handshake and meeting. No, the Korean War did not end. No, the North Koreans did not hand over all their nuclear weapons. But yes, talking proved useful and they are likely to meet again.
Our Tweeter-in-Chief reports that all went well and that we are in the dawn of a new era. Kim made some bold commitments to a Korean peninsula without nukes and Trump pledged to halt joint military exercises with South Korea as part of the talks with Kim. No more “war games” — for now.
For some, that news will be enough, in a world of fast-moving developments, to stop worrying about missiles hitting them. For others, like the foreign policy elite, it will amount to nothing. Critics will point to the failure of the summit and the rather hastily presented statement. The notion of ending security exercises is problematic since we have no security guarantees from the North that justify letting our guard done. Trump fans will deem the summit a success because the meeting was historic and the document, albeit short, is a document. The truth, as with most things, will be somewhere in between.
Still, there will be more questions than answers coming out of the summit. Among them:
1. What is the exact nature of the North Korean nuclear ambition, and how far along in development is Pyongyang?
2. Did North Korea really blow up a nuclear test site recently or was that a public relations stunt? Did Kim bring photographs to the meeting?
3. Will North Korea allow international inspectors into the country?
4. What about human rights in North Korea?
5. Will there be free travel between North Koreans and South Koreans, across the Demilitarized Zone, and is that really a good outcome if it means sharing of nuclear science before we know what the answers to the first four questions are?
6. Is the progress made at the summit enough to justify a visit by the North Korean president to the White House?
7. How is this deal going to differ from the deal we had with Iran — the one we walked away from? That’s a big question.
The summit was short — sort of the length of a military parade. In fact, it barely registered on the foreign travel clock but it was historic, nonetheless and neither side left in a huff.
For those who want to speculate about why Trump only stayed for 24 hours instead of three days, I wouldn’t read too much into it. My guess is the president wanted to be home in time for his birthday on Thursday, which is also Flag Day, and you want to have a “win” in the foreign policy score box, and a meeting that might lead to another meeting that might lead to peace is a good start. It might not be the stuff of Nobel prizes, but hey, let’s give Trump an “E” for “effort” with a “more progress needed” in the comments section.
The real question back in Washington will be how summit news coverage compares with, say, the Tuesday parade for the Washington Capitals, the Stanley Cup winners — another American success story albeit of a different kind.
Tara D. Sonenshine is a former U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and advises students at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.