Denuclearizing North Korea: Easier Said Than Done

Jun 10, 2018
Originally published on June 11, 2018 11:41 am
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

So the Singapore meeting will be the first one ever between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. Victor Cha is with us now to help us understand what to expect from this meeting. He is the senior adviser and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Welcome to the program.

VICTOR CHA: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So as of now, this meeting is happening, and President Trump is in Singapore, but he's calling it a one-time shot and that he'll know immediately if Kim Jong Un is serious about dealing. You know, this is not normally how these high-profile negotiations go. Is this the right tactic for dealing with North Korea?

CHA: It's probably not the most conventional way to do summit diplomacy, but this meeting itself breaks all conventions. You know, sometimes when he says stuff like one-shot deal, it makes me wonder if he's going to walk into the room and just put everything on the table - you know, our troops in Korea, the normalization of relations peace treaty - and then say, will you give up your weapons? And if that doesn't work, he'll walk out of the room, which would not be a good outcome. But, yeah, it's extremely unconventional, and I think we're all sort of sitting on the edge of our seats, which is what he wants, of course.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, you know, it's amazing listening to you say that, that you are wondering what he is going to bring into this meeting. Normally, when we talk about these kinds of meetings, there's been a lot of choreography in advance, and we have a general idea of what the two parties are going to do. Do you have any idea what the strategy is here?

CHA: I mean, you're absolutely right. I mean, when I - I used to prepare summits, and 99.9 percent of it was scripted in advance. And in this case, you know, maybe 10 percent is scripted in advance. You know, I think the outcomes could be one in which we have a broad statement of principles, but then the most important question is, will the president, then the leader of North Korea, then mandate a real negotiation process to follow, headed by Pompeo and his counterpart? That would probably be the best outcome that we could hope for. But there are lots of many bad outcomes that we could enumerate, if you'd like, but I think we would try to hope for the positive here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, hope for the positive, but this is a very sensitive negotiation with a rogue nation, essentially. So, I mean, what are the potential pitfalls briefly?

CHA: So the most important thing is that, you know, they're met - the North Koreans have been doing this for 2 1/2 decades. The same people who are negotiating this time were the ones who negotiated 10 years ago when I did this and 20 years ago. And they can say things that sound great, like let's coexist peacefully. That sounds fantastic. But in North Korean terminology, that means we coexist peacefully as two nuclear weapon states. So the concern is Trump could walk out of these meetings thinking he's got something good when in reality he's just walked into one of North Korea's traps.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of North Korea's traps, which leads me to my next question - what does North Korea want?

CHA: I think, in the end, they want acceptance as a nuclear weapon state and some sort of tension reduction process where the United States treats North Korea as a nuclear weapon state. So in other words, some sort of arms control negotiation. And then if they can get economic benefits along with that, I'm sure they're happy to accept those things. But contrary to what Secretary Pompeo has been saying, I don't think their primary reasons for doing this is they want to get rich. If North Korea wanted to get rich, they could have done it many, many years ago.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you have any idea as an expert on this part of the world what preparation President Trump has had in advance of these meetings? You know, the North Korea teams have been pretty thin on the ground, we've heard.

CHA: Yeah. I mean, there certainly are still a lot of unfilled slots, and there's a little bit of history in the negotiation team and the preparation team but not a whole lot. Having said that, I know that they will provide binders and binders of material for the president. So the problem isn't the material. The problem is he doesn't like to read it, and he prefers to go on instinct. And of course, maybe in another negotiation that would work, but that's not going to work with North Korea.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if that doesn't work with North Korea, then where does that leave us in your view?

CHA: It leaves us where the president said it leaves us. He's going to try to walk in there and wing it with a leader who has been preparing - and a country that's been preparing - 45 years for this meeting. So, you know, it's a little worrying.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. That's Victor Cha of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thank you very much.

CHA: OK. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.