Kim and Trump can usher in an era of peace and prosperity
On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump tweeted, "Meeting in Singapore with North Korea will hopefully be the start of something big ... we will soon see!"
By giving a specific time－9 am－for the planned June 12 summit between Trump and Democratic People's Republic of Korea leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, the White House seems intent on following through on the historic summit.
However impulsive Trump may have been when he agreed in early March to the summit, he has now come to realize that the anticipated one-on-one with Kim is just the beginning of the "process" of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, meaning rapid denuclearization is unlikely.
Perhaps this realization is what made Trump put new sanctions against the DPRK on hold on Friday. Asked if the DPRK had agreed to "complete, verifiable and irreversible" dismantlement of its nuclear sites and program, Trump said: "We're not going to go in and sign something on June 12, and we never were." Thus he downplayed the expectations from the summit which he had abruptly canceled just few days ago. "We're going to start a process... but I think they'd like to see something happen."
Shortly after his meeting with Kim Yongchol, vice-chairman of the DPRK's ruling Workers' Party of Korea Central Committee, Trump told reporters that he was putting new sanctions against Pyongyang on hold and doesn't want to use the term "maximum pressure" anymore.
"We're getting along, so it's not a question of maximum pressure," Trump said. "And at a certain point, I'll tell you what, I look forward to the day when I can take the sanctions off North Korea."
A day before his meeting with the DPRK envoy, Trump had said it could take several meetings to reach an agreement.
In Pyongyang, the official Korean Central News Agency reported on Friday that Kim Jong-un hoped US-DPRK relations will improve and denuclearization of the peninsula will be achieved on a "stage-by-stage" basis.
After the turbulence and drama surrounding the on-again, off-again Trump-Kim summit, it is perhaps safe to say the two leaders are now on the same page on at least one aspect－there is no quick fix to denuclearization. Which is important because realizing that denuclearizing takes time will make people more rational about what to expect from the first Trump-Kim meeting days before it opens. It also allows deliberation on what steps to take before the summit and during the critical period afterward.
On Monday, top Democrats in the US Senate told Trump not to make a deal that leaves the DPRK with nuclear weapons. They threatened to maintain or toughen sanctions on Pyongyang if that condition was not met. The White House, too, said that "powerful sanctions" will continue unless the DPRK is denuclearized.
Because denuclearization faces a long and bumpy road, it is time to think what would be a more realistic approach－easing of sanctions only after full denuclearization, or easing them step-by-step so that Pyongyang can get some benefits in due course?
Pyongyang has stopped its nuclear and missile tests, demolished a nuclear test site, released three American prisoners and Kim has held a second meeting with ROK President Moon Jae-in in the run-up to the planned summit.
Trump's offer of keeping on hold new sanctions is a good gesture. And given the long-term goal and the efforts needed to achieve it, it is important for the two countries to continue meeting each other halfway, with sincerity, so they can achieve what they and the international community hope for. For their efforts could ultimately usher in a new era for the peninsula, one of denuclearization, peace and prosperity.
The author is deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily USA.