A pedestrian walks in front of a huge screen flashing a news report relating to US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong agreeing to meet for talks  TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

Could the Trump-Kim Summit Succeed?

The Kim-Trump summit is an opportunity that will be difficult to seize and easy to squander. For example, if Trump decertifies the Iran nuclear deal on May 12, ahead of the summit, the move would almost certainly call into question America’s good faith and ability to honor negotiated international agreements.

CANBERRA – Last year, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump were hurling kindergarten insults at each other – “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission,” said Trump of Kim; “mentally deranged US dotard,” Kim retorted – while threatening to reduce East Asia to a post-atomic wasteland. Now, in a stunning and dramatic development, the two are to meet by May. Kim reportedly is willing to denuclearize and eager to talk directly to Trump, who has agreed.

But optimism about this turn of events must be tempered with cautious realism. North Korea is the nuclear problem from hell. Neither South Korea nor the United States can control the narrative; definitions of success or failure are highly relative; and Trump must enter the talks with no exit strategy. The six decades since the Korean War ended in 1953 – with a ceasefire but no peace agreement – have hardened an increasingly dangerous stalemate. Although neither side is likely to launch a premeditated nuclear attack, the risk of war from miscommunication, misperception, or miscalculation is real.

All key announcements so far have come from Seoul, not Pyongyang or Washington. President Moon Jae-in, a son of refugees from North Korea, was elected on the promise of a two-track approach to the North: sanctions and diplomacy. This led to the Olympic initiative whereby Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, attended the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, and the two countries competed as one team. Afterwards, Moon’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, and intelligence chief Suh Hoon traveled to Pyongyang and Washington, where, standing on the White House lawn with Cho Yoon-je, South Korea’s ambassador to the US – but with no US officials present – they announced the summit.

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