Donald Trump to meet Kim Jong-un in Singapore: What will a successful US-North Korea Summit look like?

Weeks of 'Will they? Won't they?' later, US president Donald Trump and Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un arrived in Singapore over the course of Sunday. While Trump will be a guest at the Shangri-La Hotel during his stay in the City-State, Kim will be a resident of the St Regis Hotel barely a kilometre away. On Tuesday, both leaders will converge on Sentosa Island for their historic summit.

If April's Inter-Korea Summit was the crack in the dam holding the world back from Pyongyang, Tuesday's Trump-Kim meeting could potentially represent the total collapse of the dam that brings the world surging towards North Korea. Why only potentially? That's because these two world leaders are not, strictly speaking, known to be very diplomatic — that is to say that they are in no manner of speaking, known to be very diplomatic at all. Bear in mind, both Pyongyang and Washington have threatened to walk out of the talks in the past few weeks. Nevertheless, one side has begun in earnest, making the right noises.

Trump tweeted on Sunday: "I am on my way to Singapore where we have a chance to achieve a truly wonderful result for North Korea and the world. It will certainly be an exciting day and I know that Kim Jong-un will work very hard to do something that has rarely been done before... Create peace and great prosperity for his land. I look forward to meeting him and have a feeling that this one-time opportunity will not be wasted!"

The commemorative coin issued ahead of the US-North Korea Summit. Reuters

The commemorative coin issued ahead of the US-North Korea Summit. Reuters

So just what will a successful meeting between Trump and Kim actually look like? For starters, we need to be realistic about what 'success' means. Diplomacy doesn't result in overnight change and so, success in the Singapore Summit will largely mean an honest exchange of views, discussions about a future course of action and continuity of dialogue. Here, then, are a list of outcomes that would together represent the culmination of a successful summit when all's said and done in Sentosa:

First, the meeting must last longer than a minute. Trump had said that he would know "within the first minute" of meeting Kim whether or not the North Korean leader was serious about the nuclear negotiations. "I think I'll know pretty quickly whether or not, in my opinion, something positive will happen. And if I think it won't happen, I'm not going to waste my time. I don't want to waste his time," he added. And so, the first indication of success will be that the two leaders don't rub each other the wrong way and that the meeting exceeds 60 seconds.

Second, the content of the meeting must be holistic. Getting Pyongyang to swear off its nuclear ambitions is certainly a central prerequisite and condition of North Korea's impending return to the world order, never mind the summit. However, it cannot be the only topic of discussion between Trump and Kim. For the North Korean leader to be willing to agree to the US president's conditions on denuclearisation, there need to be inducements and assurances offered to Pyongyang.

Third, a peace treaty ending the Korean War must be initiated. The end of the Korean War was marked by the signing of an armistice agreeement in July 1953. In subsequent years, the US and South Korea signed a mutual defence treaty, but nothing for the North. To this day, and technically speaking, Washington and Pyongyang are still at war. In late April, Trump tweeted, "KOREAN WAR TO END!" Work towards fleshing out a peace treaty must begin in Singapore.

Fourth, advisors on both sides must maintain the peace. Volatility and the Trump-Kim pairing go together like joint statements and the phrase 'constructive talks'. In order to prevent the collapse of the talks and subsequently, North Korea's return to the mainstream after decades of international isolation, advisors (from Washington and Pyongyang) in the meeting must do what they can to steer the discussion in a positive direction. All it'll take is for Trump to fire off a jibe at Kim or vice versa for the entire summit to come to an unsavoury end, leaving understandably ticked-off Singaporeans with a wholly unnecessary bill for SG 20 million ($15 million).

Fifth, photo opportunities must be encouraged, not dismissed. Before leaving for the ill-fated G7 Summit, Trump had underlined his resolve vis-à-vis a productive meeting with Kim by stating that the summit would be "much more than a photo-op". This is fine in theory, however, both leaders must ensure they don't overlook the historical nature of the event by eschewing the optics. Keep in mind, these photographs and video clips depicting smiles, hugs, handshakes, pointing randomly in the same direction and so on will travel the world and say a lot more than any of the remarks offered by either leader.

Finally, a sense of continuity must be established. This summit will not achieve instant peace, denuclearisation, friendship, joint military exercises, booming trade, regular summits or any of these wonderful goals. What it should be used for instead is as a starting point with a clearly articulated roadmap for continued dialogue. The truest measure of the success of the Singapore Dialogue will be an agreement by Trump and Kim to meet again in the near future. An invitation to visit Trump in October, coupled with a few interactions with the UN General Assembly could be most catalytic.

Ultimately, all of these will be great outcomes as far as ensuring the success of the summit is concerned. However, we'll just have to wait and see how it actually pans out. Fortunately, there are less than 24 hours to go before then.


Updated Date: Jun 11, 2018 16:58 PM

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