With 20 steps over the military demarcation line at the Korean Demilitarized Zone Sunday, US President Donald Trump made history, the first sitting US President to set foot on North Korean soil.
Those 20 steps were, indeed, a remarkable achievement. The fact that US officials and the notoriously rigid North Korean bureaucracy were able to pull together such a momentous meeting in around 24 hours, after Trump proposed the idea on Twitter, is a testament to the warm personal relationship that has developed over the last year between the two leaders.
It is also highly significant that the two were able to go beyond a simple two-minute handshake previewed earlier by the US President to speak privately for nearly an hour — announcing they would form teams with the goal of resuming working level denuclearization talks by mid July.
Both Kim and Trump seem to be banking on their personal relationship as the solution that will help them overcome the huge divide that remains between the US and North Korea.
But as the buzz wears off, a far longer and more difficult march lies ahead. It was noteworthy that Trump never once mentioned the word denuclearization on Sunday. The US has thus far failed to achieve its ultimate goal of getting North Korea to relinquish any of its nuclear weapons, or even agree upon a definition of denuclearization. Kim has so far been unable to achieve his ultimate goal of relief from crushing sanctions. If anything, Sunday’s meeting buys Kim time to prove to skeptics inside his country that he is capable of striking a deal with the US, despite the breakdown of talks in Hanoi.