Three American hostages flew home from their North Korean captivity, landing at Joint Base Andrews early this morning with Donald Trump on hand to greet them. Trump joked about setting a ratings record for 3 AM television as the media broadcast the moment live. Trump thanked Kim Jong-un for releasing the three men, explaining that it came as part of “the process” that will culminate in their summit meeting in the next few weeks.
When asked how it felt to be back in the US, one replied that it was “like a dream”:
BREAKING: President Donald Trump personally welcomes back three Americans as they arrive at a military base outside Washington after their release from North Korea https://t.co/Io4r80IUmZ pic.twitter.com/efqzFbgx27
— CNN (@CNN) May 10, 2018
Big ratings or not, CNN analyst Stephen Collinson wonders if we’re not an audience on the verge of watching “something truly historic” unfold:
While history suggests skepticism is warranted over North Korea’s apparent opening, and Trump will face accusations of taking a premature victory lap, Thursday’s events nevertheless pointed to a moment of rare hope in the world’s last Cold War standoff.
By securing the prisoners’ release the Trump administration could claim a genuine foreign policy victory that further built confidence ahead of his looming historic planned summit with Kim Jong Un.
Other groups of US prisoners have been freed from North Korea over the years — often after visits by luminaries like former President Bill Clinton. But the accelerating diplomacy means this time there is the prospect that a more permanent opening could be possible after seven decades of hostility.
So far so good, of course, but Collinson also offers a couple of reminders about how much farther there is to go. Kim grabbed these three Americans in order to use them as leverage, and he’s getting some mileage out of them in the rare good press that Trump is also enjoying. Despite all of the talk of improved relations, it’s only been talk so far. It’s a big improvement over the annihilationist threats that were going in both directions over the last sixteen months and the similar unidirectional threats from Pyongyang for years prior to that, of course, but nothing has yet formally changed. We still have not even defined terms such as “denuclearization” to see where the process will lead us.
However, we do seem to be much farther down the road on a potential solution to the 68-year-old Korean crisis than ever. That might not be historic yet, but it is now more possible than it has been in a long time. And even if Kim benefits from Americans coming home, their return is a sign that Kim needs a benefit at this point. He’s looking for some kind of deal regardless of what his specific motivations might be. Trump has a historic, legacy-defining opportunity in front of him, and we all have a ringside seat to it.