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North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un and President Trump at the start of their Singapore summit on June 12, 2018. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore was heavy on drama but ultimately light on specifics. Kim agreed to complete denuclearization, and the U.S. to provide benefits, but all without articulated steps or timetables.

What's next: For all the to-ing and fro-ing ahead of the summit, it may well turn out that the Trump-Kim meeting was the easy part. Now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart must negotiate an actual plan that leads to complete denuclearization.

The work ahead will be hard and perhaps impossible. Pompeo's first task will be to demonstrate that there indeed is a shared understanding of what the two sides mean by "complete denuclearization," and to elicit a weapons declaration and lock in a timetable for their destruction. The administration should test the possibility that Kim is sincere about disarming without giving away tangible benefits ahead of true demonstrations of commitment. On that count, Trump's pledge to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea was a step in the wrong direction.

Throughout the process, the administration should recall that in Kim it is dealing with a true tyrant: a leader whose government virtually enslaves its population and keeps them in ignorance and poverty. Its terrible human rights record has no parallel in the world today. Presidents have met with — and legitimated — other brutal dictators when the benefits (Stalin fighting Hitler, for example, or Mao balancing the Soviets) were likely to outweigh the obvious costs. The key is to get something important in return.

The bottom line: Until Pyongyang starts destroying its nuclear weapons, the United States will not have gotten that something. And so the difficult phase now begins.

Richard Fontaine is the president of the Center for a New American Security.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a powerful and potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring an array of hazards, from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten coastal property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Republican-led Pennsylvania court deems mail-in voting law unconstitutional

Workers count ballots for the 2020 Presidential election at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo: Hannah Yoon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Republican-led Pennsylvania court on Friday ruled that the state's mail-in voting law is unconstitutional.

Driving the news: Three Republican judges sided with Republican challengers and ruled that no-excuse mail-in voting is prohibited under the state's constitution. Two Democrats on the panel dissented.

2 hours ago - World

China's ambassador warns Taiwan could spark "military conflict" with U.S.

Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

China's ambassador to the U.S. warned in a rare interview with NPR that if Taiwanese authorities "keep going down the road for independence," it would "most likely" lead to a "military conflict" between the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: Chinese officials rarely speak in such blunt terms, but veteran diplomat Qin Gang was unequivocal: "The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States."