The Singapore Summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un was a positive step forward, but a small one. Whether it can be counted as historic is a judgment that we cannot yet make.
Neither leader gained a great deal from a summit which concluded with a communique that is largely free of substance. On the other hand, neither leader made any irreversible concession.
The most important outcome is that, by initiating negotiations, the two leaders have deferred -- for the foreseeable future -- a return to their reciprocal threats and reduced the risk of military conflict in Northeast Asia.
This is not a sports event, in which we identify winners and losers. But we can say that Mr. Kim gained more than President Trump in three important areas. First, the prestige conferred upon him by Mr. Trump will benefit him in the dangerous political arena in Pyongyang. Second, he has probably convinced China to ease its strong enforcement of United Nations sanctions. Third, Trump's surprise announcement that he would suspend military exercises appears to be more than Kim asked for.
These outcomes do not mean that Mr. Kim is the "winner". He risks losing all three benefits if he fails to follow through in substantive ways on his stated commitment to denuclearize. Everything now depends upon whether the two sides can agree on the process and sequenced steps in this years-long process. The photo opportunity was positive for both sides, but now the real work begins.
The ultimate goal is to halt, and then reverse, and ultimately eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons capability. To succeed, the United States must act in the closest possible coordination with its key allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan. The fact that Trump did not coordinate with Seoul before announcing the suspension of exercises gives us cause for concern about Washington's commitment to such coordination. But the Secretary of State, Mr. Pompeo, has already begun to address this with his meetings in Seoul and Tokyo.
In their next round of negotiations, the two sides should seek to arrive at a common definition of "denuclearization," a word that still carries different meaning for each. Next, the United States should press Pyongyang for a complete inventory of its nuclear weapons, facilities and materials.
The United States must also lay the groundwork for the involvement of the wider international community and of the two organizations which are key to verification: the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. Once that work is well under way, we can hope to see the beginning of dismantlement of the DPRK's weapons capabilities. At the same time, the United States must make some difficult choices about what it will do address the DPRK's security concerns.
Our genuine hope must be mixed with caution. We must look beyond Mr. Trump's exaggerated claims about what has so far been achieved. The work still ahead will be far more complex than the negotiation of the nuclear agreement with Iran. It will require the support -- and the involvement -- of America's allies in Asia.
(Thomas Countryman is former acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security).