Kim Jong Un is probably feeling pretty good right now. A year ago, the North Korean leader was trading threats with President Trump; on Tuesday, he was shaking hands with him in Singapore. And in what must count as the swiftest political rehabilitation since the Soviets freed political prisoners after Khrushchev denounced Stalin, Trump called Kim “a very talented man” who “loves his country very much.”
What Trump received in exchange for those kind words was an assurance of denuclearization—but with no timeline for when that will happen or whether the process will be open to international inspectors. What Kim got was a lot more: Trump promised to suspend the joint U.S. military exercises with South Korea, which Trump, echoing North Korea’s longstanding view, labeled “very provocative”; Trump appears not to have insisted at this stage on what denuclearization will look like; and, perhaps most importantly, Kim got something neither his father nor his grandfather, who ruled North Korea before him, received: a one-on-one meeting with the president of the United States (accompanied only by translators).
And with that meeting, Kim has gone from an international pariah, a brutal dictator who rules over what is essentially a personal fiefdom, to something closer to a legitimate member of the international community. Among other things, Kim got this video, tweeted by the president, that the North Korean leader can air, unedited, on his highly censored television stations:
It’s not an outcome anyone would have predicted last fall. North Korea tested missile after missile, including some thought capable of reaching the contiguous United States, and in between also tested a nuclear device. Trump threatened “fire and fury” and traded personal insults and military threats with Kim. While the two leaders boasted about the size of their “nuclear buttons,” U.S. lawmakers played up the possibility of a preemptive nuclear strike; the Trump administration simply said all options were on the table—reiterating a longstanding U.S. policy. In January, Kim announced North Korea’s nuclear deterrent against the United States was complete, and “no force and nothing can reverse” it.