THE leafy environs of Singapore have just witnessed one of the most bizarre events in modern international relations: the summit between North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump. It was particularly bizarre because, not too long ago, the two leaders were publicly trading insults like bickering schoolboys. However, in Singapore, both men put on their best statesman face and talked of peace. Mr Trump pledged to end the “very provocative” military exercises the US stages with South Korea while Mr Kim reaffirmed his commitment to the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”. Peaceniks have hailed the meeting between the two erstwhile foes; indeed, talks are a much better alternative to the sabre-rattling both states have engaged in — in the recent past, both countries talked of destroying the other. So to pull back from the brink and talk peace can only be welcomed. However, international relations is rarely guided by optimism and good faith; cold, hard realpolitik is what actually rules relations between states. Therefore, the question emerges: beyond the picture-perfect moments in Singapore, what concrete steps will Pyongyang and Washington take to end the stalemate permanently and bring peace to the two Koreas? Critics have said the joint statement released after the summit is short on details, but it is far too early to pass judgement on the long-term effects of the meeting.
Without doubt, both leaders — Mr Trump and Mr Kim — are unpredictable, particularly the US president. Here is a man known to tear up sovereign agreements (the Iran nuclear deal), alienate long-standing allies through his sound bites and tweets (the recent debacle following the G7 summit in Canada) and launch charm offensives against previously sworn foes (the case with North Korea). If Mr Trump can end the Cold War-era stalemate in Korea, history will remember him. However, it appears quite contradictory that while the US leader pursues peace with Pyongyang, he is on the path of war with Iran. Indeed, following the Singapore summit, Iranian officials have been warning their North Korean counterparts not to trust America. If Mr Trump is serious about his quest for world peace, he should press ahead with his efforts to end the Korean stalemate. Yet this must be coupled with an earnest engagement with Iran, based on mutual respect, to prevent a new conflict in the Middle East.
Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2018