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Caution: Peace is a process

The meeting Tuesday between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump was remarkable. Only months ago, the North Korean leader was firing intercontinental ballistic missiles and testing nuclear weapons, presumably the intended payload. And for his part, the US president was lobbing insults and threats that escalated tensions around the Korean Peninsula and the world.

Then there was a dramatic turn of events that started with the “peace” Olympics, followed by the two meetings between the North Korean leader and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, and finally earlier this week with the first-ever summit with a sitting US president. The day ended with a signing of a document that promises peace and denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

As if the optics and developments were not dramatic enough, there was an emotional Dennis Rodman, the former NBA superstar, giving interviews to the media also from Singapore. On CNN, he wept as he recounted the numerous death threats that he received supposedly from his attempts to backchannel peace talks.

This paper’s editorial yesterday suggested that the meeting may change the world. It might, and we hope that it does. But it would be prudent to be cautious still. The road to peace typically is a long one, and race to get there may just turn out to be a marathon rather than a sprint.

We should remember our lessons from history, and be reminded that we have been on the same spot before. Remember that there have been historic summits and pledges made by North Korea to make peace with the world. But those commitments never materialized.

As reported last month in this paper, North Korea was still dodging the United Nations sanctions by illegally trading for oil with China and Russia. Deliveries were made out in open sea in perilous maneuvers that endangered lives, the environment, and livelihood of fishing communities in the region. These were happening even as Pyongyang and Washington were making preparations for the summit in Singapore.

Trust but verify

On Tuesday, some international news commentators suggested that President Trump borrow from the late Ronald Reagan. When he was negotiating with the Soviet Union, he said that he trusted the Russians but would verify their claims. That seems like wise counsel moving forward, not just for Mr. Trump but also for all stakeholders in the Korean peace process, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The Philippines also has stakes. Not only is this country within range of North Korea’s ICBMs, Filipinos will suffer economically if their major trading partners China, Japan and the United States are dragged into conflict. On the positive side, the Philippines was a top-five trading partner of North Korea, and so if economic sanctions were lifted, Manila would benefit from that.

We should all encourage Mr. Kim to embrace the idea that peace is superior to war. In their meetings, Mr. Trump said that the North Korean leader appeared to have the best interest of his people at heart. We hope so. But looking at the hurdles ahead, we cannot help but worry.

For instance, we noted the numerous questions about the human rights crimes allegedly perpetrated by Pyongyang. How will Mr. Kim address those issues? Also, is his concept of “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula the same as Mr. Trump’s? Finally, what are the next steps and how will the commitments be verified? Like we said, peace is a process.

If Mr. Kim and others in North Korea stick with the process, the payoff may be worthwhile. Already, the US has suspended “war games” with South Korea. President Trump even dangled the possibility of a White House visit by Mr. Kim somewhere down the road if the peace talks prosper.

Then, of course, there is the possibility of lifting the economic sanctions that have bruised and battered the North Korean economy. That is the bigger prize that Mr. Kim must surely be eying. But such rewards cannot be given out of goodwill. They must be earned by concrete and verifiable action toward peace.

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