Editorial: Better to talk peace than to saber rattle
Donald Trump's sit-down with North Korea's Kim Jong Un was neither a historic success nor an epic failure. Hopefully, it turns out to be a good start.
The spare framework the summit produced begins what is bound to be a lengthy process, and one that hopefully will produce the complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
That still seems unlikely, and in any case was too much to expect from a one-day session.
So seize the good news: The agreement signed by Kim and Trump at the end of the day commits their two nations to working together toward the goal of peace.
Whether it falls apart short of its goal it still is preferable to marching steadily toward a nuclear confrontation, which was the path the two nations were on before the tone suddenly changed and they committed to the summit instead.
Whether it was Trump's capability or Kim's desperation for relief from crippling economic sanctions that brought them to the table doesn't much matter.
The two leaders are now talking instead of trading threats.
From here, the work gets really hard, and potentially treacherous. Kim should not be allowed to harbor any illusions that the agreement to negotiate buys him time to further refine his nuclear arsenal.
Any hint that work is continuing to perfect the delivery of a nuclear warhead must be met forcibly by the United States.
Trump agreed to suspend military exercises with South Korea while negotiations are underway. That was an important good faith gesture, but came without commensurate concessions from Kim, and that's a bad start to the bargaining.
However, Trump offered no relief from the economic sanctions, nor should he until there is verifiable evidence that North Korea is destroying its nuclear capacity.
Sanctions can serve as a valve to reduce pressure as Kim delivers on his promise, or to increase it if bargaining stalls.
This summit was hastily arranged, without the meticulous preparation that would normally precede such a significant sit-down.
So now the detail work begins, and until it takes form, it is impossible to judge the end game of either Trump or Kim.
Is the North Korea dictator truly motivated by a desire to build a functional economy for his nation and a less dangerous future for himself? Or is he carrying China's water?
Is Trump seeking a more influential role for the United States on the Pacific Rim, or does he ultimately want to abandon the region, pulling the U.S. out of South Korea and Japan?
Such a realignment of alliances would work against the interests of the United States and increase the influence of China.
Negotiations must proceed without the pretense that we are at some new place with North Korea. It's too soon to say that. The nation is built on deceit and despotism, and has dangled these same promises before.
North Korea should not be again rewarded for making pledges it has no intention of keeping.
There are delicate days ahead as the diplomats sit down to do the sweaty work of attaching solid pieces to this framework.
The chances of the process delivering the true denuclearization the United States seeks remain remote. But if it did nothing more than stabilize the peninsula and remove the immediate threat, it puts the world in a better place than before.
An uncertain and rocky path to peace is always a better choice than a course that leads to war.