After three American hostages stepped off a plane from North Korea early Thursday morning, President Donald Trump heralded their release as a “wonderful thing” and the start of “a new footing” with the hermit kingdom.
The return of Korean-American missionary Kim Dong-chul and teachers Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song, who had been seized for various “anti-state” crimes in North Korea between 2015 and 2017, was indeed a breakthrough in North Korean-American relations. It comes just ahead of planned direct talks between the leaders of the two countries, so it is a welcome sign that those negotiations could actually succeed.
A few months ago, the two countries seemed on the brink of nuclear war. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un called Mr. Trump “a dotard” and persisted with nuclear missile tests that made it clear his weapons could reach even the mainland United States.
Mr. Trump responded to Mr. Kim with ferocity, warning of the United States’ ability to wage an overwhelming military response and dubbing the North Korean leader “little rocket man.”
(He added that his nuclear launch button actually worked.)
And it was not even a year ago that another hostage, 22-year-old Ohio college student Otto Warmbier, was sent home by North Korea brain damaged and unresponsive. He died days after finally reaching American shores. Clearly he had been tortured. His crime? Attempting to steal a propaganda poster.
It was right and good for the President to remember Mr. Warmbier when the three healthy former prisoners reached the U.S., and freedom, in the middle of the night.
Mr. Warmbier’s parents released a statement Thursday morning saying they were happy for the released hostages and their families, adding, heartbreakingly: “We miss Otto.”
Meanwhile, North and South Korea have declared the Korean war over, after 65 years.
So, the stage has now been set for the June 12 summit in Singapore between Mr. Kim and the President. Perhaps we ought not to hope for too much, too soon. But North Korea has never been this close to joining the civilized world.
Mr. Trump has set his sights on nothing less than denuclearization. If he achieves an agreement it will be comparable to the 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev Geneva summit which began the end of the U.S. Soviet arms race.
And, who knows, if the USSR could fall and Eastern Europe democratize, it is not unreasonable to imagine an eventual democratic and free market Korea.
Make no mistake, Mr. Trump has already accomplished much here. The President’s methods are not always conventional or genteel, but he sometimes gets results that no one else has been able to get. Enticing North Korea to the table, perhaps with more sticks than carrots, is a mark of a serious man and a shrewd bargainer.
EDITORIAL: Cautious hope in Korea
The new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, also seems to have played a key role in the releases, and setting up the summit. So he starts his term on a high note.
Mr. Trump’s admirers, and even skeptics, wonder how much he might be able to accomplish without the distractions he and his enemies create.
In any case, three innocent Americans, whose crime, like Otto Warmbier’s, was being in North Korea, are now safe and home.
If this is a down payment on peace with North Korea, Mr. Trump will have made rather incredible history, and shown those who hate him that they really don’t know who they are dealing with at all.
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