Eric Altbach on the North Korea summit

The Trump-Kim Handshake to Open Summit with Outcome in Balance

President Donald Trump plans to shake hands and have lunch with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, kicking off a historic summit on Tuesday between two adversaries that only last year had seemed at the brink of nuclear war.

Their meeting at a luxury hotel in Singapore, scheduled for 9 a.m. local time -- which is 9 p.m. on Monday night New York time -- will mark the first face-to-face encounter between a U.S. president and a leader of North Korea. Its outcome could prove pivotal in determining whether the two nations pursue a lasting peace or a fresh military conflict.

Hours before the meeting’s start Trump tweeted that final staff meetings between the two sides ahead of the summit “are going well and quickly...but in the end, that doesn’t matter. We will all know soon whether or not a real deal, unlike those of the past, can happen!”

“The fact that I am having a meeting is a major loss for the U.S., say the haters & losers,” Trump tweeted about three hours before the summit. “We have our hostages, testing, research and all missle launches have stoped, and these pundits, who have called me wrong from the beginning, have nothing else they can say! We will be fine!”

The summit represents a major gamble for each leader, a high-wire act that carries the elevated potential for risk and reward that Trump has become increasingly comfortable with. The meeting will be monitored and dissected around the globe for a sense of whether one of the world’s greatest national security threats -- Kim’s nuclear arsenal -- can be solved.

“The way the summit goes in Singapore could set the stage for the next period of Northeast Asian regional security,” said Eric Altbach, vice president of the Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington, who also represented the National Security Council in sanctions discussions with North Korea during the Bush administration.

‘Challenging Path’

“We could be on a course for a more collaborative approach and lower tensions, albeit in a very challenging path forward on the North Korean nuclear issues. Or we could have a failed summit that really takes us in the other direction.”

On the summit’s eve, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo drew a firm line, saying the U.S. plans to keep sanctions in place until North Korea eliminates its nuclear weapons capability. Complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization, he told reporters, “is the only outcome that the United States will accept.”

Yet the top U.S. diplomat added Trump is ready to offer “unique” guarantees to ease the regime’s concerns about giving up a nuclear arsenal that provides a deterrent against foreign adversaries while also serving as a key point of national pride.

“We’re prepared to take actions that will provide them sufficient certainty that they can be comfortable that denuclearization isn’t something that ends badly for them,” he said.