There is no question that Tuesday’s meeting in Singapore between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump marked a historic thaw between the two countries.
It was also without doubt a relief to see two adversaries, who had only recently threatened each other with nuclear armageddon, shaking hands and signing a joint statement committing themselves to peaceful coexistence.
So why are we left feeling uneasy about it?
Simple: It is the improvised nature of this on-again, off-again summit that is troubling. Instead of preparing the ground over months or even years, the two leaders met on what in diplomatic terms amounts to the spur of the moment, and signed an agreement lacking in specifics.
That absence of detail, especially around North Korea’s commitment to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” is telling and worrisome.
There was no agreement on a timetable or on verification, the two most critical issues in a denuclearization pact, and ones which, in a better-prepared summit, would have been agreed to before any signing ceremony was held.
Does that matter? Maybe not. But it does feel ominous, given what we know about the motives of the signing parties.
Mr. Kim sought the validation that a meeting with a U.S. president would bring, and now he has it. His despotic rule has been reinforced, inside and outside his country.
For Mr. Trump, his goal largely seems to have been to become the first president to meet with a North Korean leader – “an epochal event of great significance,” as the joint statement said, in case anyone failed to notice. Where other presidents were cautious, Mr. Trump went in headfirst.
In short, both men sought personal political gain, and they may now have achieved all they really needed to. It will be left to negotiators to turn this historic meeting into something durable – an outcome reliant on an agreement that is the product of the ruthlessness of Mr. Kim, the ego of Mr. Trump, and the unpredictability of both men.
In other words, an agreement that could collapse at any minute.