The “history” supposedly made by the long-awaited summit in Singapore was not to be seen in the usual images, in the smiling faces and handshakes that everyone has seen by now. And it was not to be found in the ostensibly “historic document” signed at the end of a meeting that had been expected by the whole world.
Rather, you could see the true story in the eyes of Kim and Trump when they had just arrived at the Capella Hotel, a moment after getting out of their cars. It could be seen clearly in their tense, squared-off faces, and in their eyes which looked around intently, as they truly realized—perhaps for the first time—that they were the protagonists of a momentous event.
Apart from the facial expressions, you could see it in the way they moved: not carefully choreographed for the camera like the official photographs. Kim got out of his car and took a few steps, appearing disoriented. He looked around to find the hotel entrance, held his glasses in his right hand, and did not smile at all. Similarly, Trump got out of his car (later, during a walk together, he showed off how it looked on the inside to his new Korean friend) and looked straight ahead, putting on an appearance of being in control. But his hands, seen in the act of pulling down the lapels of his jacket, showed a glimpse of emotion, although altogether soldier-like.
Then they were off to the doors, and finally to the public; for Trump it was easier, while Kim seemed more nervous. Then came the handshake, and Kim offered a “Nice to meet you, Mr. President” that Trump must have enjoyed greatly. After all, the Korean leader is just a boy, and Trump is an experienced businessman. Shortly afterwards, as they walked side by side, Kim said something that was translated by the interpreters right behind them, and Trump gave a big laugh. This boy is really something, he must have thought. Besides, the day before he had boasted that it would only take him five minutes to know what Kim Jong-un was made of.
The rest of the story is told by the photos that have already been seen around the world. Forty minutes of face-to-face talks, enough for Trump to claim he had great rapport with the leader of North Korea, then the arrival of the delegations and the working lunch.
At 2 p.m. local time, Trump and Kim were back in front of the cameras, because most of the work had already been done between Sunday and Monday by the two teams that had arrived in Singapore. And even at this moment, during the ritual of signing a document that ended up vague and full of high hopes but with few details and requirements, History was easy to miss: while they were leaving the room together, Kim put his hand on Trump’s back, who reciprocated.
These snapshots and rituals were important for this extraordinary media event, whose protagonists were two characters who, despite having myriad skeletons in their closets (quite literally, in the case of Kim), did everything they could to look human. But afterwards, the focus shifted to the famous document they signed, which Trump called “pretty comprehensive,” an expression that is a perfect fit for the American president.
Kim and Trump signed some sort of brief memorandum, which basically says nothing concrete. It mentions the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but no terms are specified which would actually make this complete, verifiable and irreversible, the necessary requirements for this process to be credible. After that, Kim and Trump each went their own way.
“The Donald,” before returning to the United States, held a long press conference, where he demonstrated as usual his dismissive attitude, fond of vagueness and intent on projecting the appearance of some solid accomplishment. It was a sort of advertorial for the agreement they reached. He said he had had an honest dialogue with Kim, he confessed that before the summit they had talked over the phone, and, on the issue of human rights—a subject on which there were several questions—he said they would get working on that right away. As for what the incentive would be, he hinted about the economic possibilities of a future pacified Korean peninsula, highlighting the “beautiful beaches” of the North. He added that Kim, whom he once called “Little Rocket Man,” is now “incredibly talented,” is a good negotiator (according to Trump, the expert on such matters), and is supposed to have guaranteed to him the complete denuclearization of the country.
If Trump trusts him, everyone has to trust him now. But until then, the sanctions remain in place, and so do the military bases; everything stays the same except for the military exercises with South Korea, because, like all “war games,” they simply cost too much.
As regards everything else, the US president said, that will take time. The clock has been ticking since 1953. And it will take more than just time to achieve what Trump hinted at in his press conference: a peace treaty.
If what happened Tuesday in Singapore leads to that, it will be a great achievement for the Koreans. For now, however, we are faced with an important development that will have effects on the future balance of power in Asia, but which might not prove long lasting, or, worse, could disintegrate in the face of the bored attitude that Trump seems to develop toward anything that is no longer in the media spotlight.
Or, indeed, something completely different could happen: in answer to a journalist’s question, Trump said he believed that Kim was sincere, but, he added, “I may be wrong, I mean I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.” The question is, in other words: can anyone trust Trump?