President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un Meet

Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump shake hands. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Trump just became the first U.S. president to shake hands with Kim Jong Un.

Trump came face to face with North Korea’s supreme leader in Singapore on Tuesday Morning. The goal was to convince the Hermit Kingdom to give up its nukes.

Expectations ranged wildly with Trump promising the deal of the century. Many analysts went into the meeting fearing a blowup similar to what happened in at last week’s Group of 7 meeting in Canada.

Historic Summit of Powers

Mr. Trump’s habit of making misleading statements can make it difficult to parse which of the summit’s outcomes matter. Everyone is wondering which factors brought Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim closer to their respective goals and which move them further away.

The United States staged the summit meeting in a way that handed Mr. Kim some symbolic but meaningful concessions. At the North Koreans’ request, the two countries and their leaders were presented as equals- elevating Kim Jong Un from global pariah to a superpower’s peer.

Their meeting was given pomp and ceremony at points verging on that of a royal wedding. Because Mr. Kim’s legitimacy is among his greatest vulnerabilities at home and abroad, this staging was a big gift to him.

Trump’s accomplishments from the summit included gaining permission to resume recovering the remains of American troops in North Korea and a claimed promise from Kim — not included in the signed agreement — to dismantle a missile-testing site.

In contrast, Trump’s suggested a freezing of the so-called ‘war games’ and stated willingness to withdraw U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula. These moves, however, indicate the White House has forfeited a significant amount of leverage in any future negotiations.

Importance That Only Time Will Tell

Almost any talks between the United States and North Korea significantly reduce the risk of an accidental or unintended slide into war. This could kill millions. The simple act of talking changes North Korean and American behaviors and perceptions in ways that make conflict far less likely. That’s a big deal.

“I suppose President Trump would get an incomplete … for Chairman Kim Jong Un, it’s an A+,” David Adelman, former U.S. ambassador to Singapore, told CNBC on Wednesday.

The country’s ruler is now seen “as an equal” following Tuesday’s summit, said Adelman. That’s a major accomplishment for a state that’s long been isolated from the international community.

It’s too early to tell but this could be the small start of something big.

Reflecting on the significance of the Singapore summit in an interview with the BBC, the former South Korean military officer I-B Chun quoted a Korean saying: “A long journey starts with the first step. And when that first step is taken, the journey is half-finished.”