North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump plan to meet in May for nuclear disarmament talks.
The development would put two leaders who have repeatedly insulted, threatened and dismissed each other in the same room, possibly in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
It would have been an unthinkable suggestion just a few months ago when the insults were at their peak.
Mr Trump was a “senile dotard” and Mr Kim was “Little Rocket Man” and the North was snapping off regular weapons tests in a dogged march toward its goal of a viable nuclear arsenal that could threaten the US mainland.
Liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who some believe has maneuvered the two leaders to this position, reflected the hope and relief many feel about the planned summit, when he declared it would be a “historical milestone” that will put the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula “really on track.”
But there’s also considerable scepticism.
North Korea, after all, has made a habit of reaching out after raising fears during previous crises, with offers of dialogue meant to win aid and concessions. Some speculate the North is trying to peel Washington away from its ally Seoul, weaken crippling sanctions and buy time for nuclear development. It has also, from the US point of view, repeatedly cheated on past nuclear deals.
And now the North has landed a face-to-face meeting with the leader of the world’s most powerful country – a nation that Pyongyang has long sought to draw into talks that it hopes would establish a peace treaty to end the technically still-active Korean War and drive out all US.= troops from the Korean Peninsula, removing what the North says is a hostile encirclement of its territory by Washington and Seoul.
“Great progress being made,” Mr Trump tweeted after the South Korean national security director, Chung Eui-yong, emerged from a meeting with the US President and announced the summit plans to reporters in a hastily called appearance on a White House driveway.
That remains to be seen.
North Korea still produces propaganda declaring its continuing dedication to the “treasured sword” of its nuclear program.
Washington still remains publicly dedicated to annual war games with the South that the North claims are invasion rehearsal – a development that would put two leaders who have repeatedly insulted, threatened and dismissed each other in the same room, possibly in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang - and to keeping 28,500 troops in the South and 50,000 in Japan, largely as a way to deter North Korean aggression.
North Korea is engaged in “a ploy to serve its own interests” and make Mr Kim look like “a bold leader of a normal, peace-loving nuclear power,” according to Duyeon Kim, a visiting research fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum think tank in Seoul.
“But in spite of the deceptive cloak, the agreement posed an opportunity for the United States. It put the ball in Washington’s court, and provides a window for the Trump administration to engage and test the regime through direct negotiations,” Mr Kim wrote on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists web page.
North Korea appeared to confirm the summit plans. A senior North Korean diplomat at the United Nations in New York, Pak Song Il, told The Washington Post in an email the invitation was the result of Mr Kim’s “broad minded and resolute decision” to contribute to the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula.
Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have previously been overseen by lower-level experts and have often bogged down, even when so-called “breakthroughs” have come, in the pesky details, such as allowing outsiders in to inspect North Korea’s nuclear compliance, for instance.
Now, the talks will start at the top. And there will be no time to settle all the problems that have scuttled previous negotiations.
It is anyone’s guess what Mr Trump and Mr Kim might decide in the highest-level meeting in what has been essentially a bloody, seven-decade stand-off between their countries.
Today’s announcement followed weeks of softening ties between the Koreas, orchestrated by the South Korean leader, Moon, and culminating in a visit by Kim Jong Un’s sister to the South to observe the Olympics in Pyeongchang.