A good, dramatic beginning
Like all summits in modern history, this one too in Singapore between the leaders of two nuclear armed nations began and ended on a dramatic note. That much was evident from the moment Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un shook hands and were clearly intent on showing careful respect to each other.
And then came the moment for Trump to answer media questions, something he does not always do well. But this time, in Singapore, it was an altogether different Trump. For an hour and five minutes, he took questions. Amazingly, he answered them all in what came close to being statesman-like manner. And while he did that, Kim Jong-un was on his way back to Pyongyang.
It is indeed a happy surprise that following all the apprehensions and nagging worries and all the whispers, the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump has in the end taken place. Trump has already let it be known that the meeting went better than expected. As for Kim, it was a summit which promised change on a global scale. Those were his words. The signing of a document on what has been given out as a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is a noteworthy event in light of the fact that this is for the very first time that Pyongyang and Washington have come together and that too at such a high level.
Even so, while summits of the kind which has just taken place in Singapore come wrapped in all the drama they can muster, it is the details and the results, sometimes the ramifications, that matter. From that perspective, we are yet to be informed about the details of the deal --- and beyond the deal --- the two leaders have reached beyond affixing their signatures to a document. An additional reality about the document is that it was signed within the short span of the meetings between the two men, in the presence of their delegations and on a one-on-one basis. That raises questions of how much of substantive discussions went on between the two sides. One would have thought the summit, like any other summit in modern history, would take a few days in order for all the complex details to be sorted out. In the present instance, it appears that either the subjects of the discussions had been worked out before the two leaders arrived in Singapore or the document signed by Kim and Trump in the end amounts to little more than a public relations show, especially for the American leader.
In the end, however, the most remarkable thought coming out of Singapore is that it has at all taken place. One must appreciate both the leaders that they were able to turn a page in conditions that, before their meeting, had not seen any change from where the end of the Korean War, in the sense of its being a ceasefire, left it. North and South Korea are still technically at war. Besides, the presence of 32,000 American troops in the south has always been a sore point with the north. To what extent these two issues will be handled by the US and North Korea, along with South Korea, is a question that does not have an easy answer. It is standard rule with high-level summitry that the real complications related to follow-ups begin to be felt once the theatrics are over. One must now wait to see what happens. Kim Jong-un, for all his total control over his country, will nevertheless need to sell the deal to his people. Trump may be gushing in his own praise for being the first US leader to engage with Pyongyang, but it is what he must now do diplomatically to bring about real change in the Korean peninsula which is important.
The Singapore summit does not transform the world. But it is a good, cautious beginning. President Trump has said he will invite Kim Jong-un to the White House. He also expects to visit Pyongyang. The world will wait and see.
(Syed Badrul Ahsan is a commentator on international affairs)