RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It has never happened before - a sitting American president meeting with a leader of North Korea. That could change now. President Donald Trump has accepted an invitation to open up a dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un about ending the North's nuclear program. South Korea's national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, made the announcement at the White House yesterday.
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CHUNG EUI-YONG: Along with President Trump, we are optimistic about continuing a diplomatic process to test the possibility of a peaceful resolution.
MARTIN: It's going to be quite the test. Let's talk about this with NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey.
MARTIN: So just yesterday, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was talking about diplomacy with North Korea as an unlikely possibility in the short term. But today he had something new to say about the president's perspective. Let's listen.
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REX TILLERSON: This is something that he's had on his mind for quite some time. So it was not a surprise in any way because I think this has long been something - he's expressed it openly before about his willingness to meet with Kim Jong Un.
MARTIN: The question, though, is did Tillerson know this was coming? And is he going to be part of this process moving forward?
KEITH: So what Tillerson said was that the decision to take this meeting, to accept this invitation was a decision that the president took himself. Those are Tillerson's words. The other thing that Tillerson is trying to say here is that this is not a negotiation that the president has agreed to. This is merely - this is not formal negotiation talks. This is just talks. This is...
MARTIN: A meet and greet.
KEITH: ...Just a meeting. Yes. However, there is this very real thing that meetings matter. Visuals matter. And in the past, American presidents have tried to avoid the visuals of letting North Korea look like, you know, it has gotten something, a meeting with the American president, in exchange for its aggressive tactics and testing.
MARTIN: Right. I mean, this is something North Korean leaders have been agitating for for a long time because, as you say, it elevates them in some way. Did the North have to concede anything to make this happen?
KEITH: Well, certainly, the North has agreed to not do any testing before the meeting. The U.S. and South Korea can continue their military exercises. And the U.S. is also not giving anything up is what the Trump administration would say.
MARTIN: Sanctions are going to stay in place.
KEITH: Sanctions and the maximum pressure campaign will remain in place. All the president is doing here is taking a meeting.
MARTIN: So then, what would happen? I mean, this - it's not so easy to just say, let's have a meeting with Kim Jong Un and talk about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. I mean, what would be the steps in this process?
KEITH: Right. And that is the ultimate goal, denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, getting North Korea to give up their weapons program. North Korea is going to want something in exchange for that. And you know, in the past, there have been sort of low-level talks that have led up to the possibility of something bigger.
KEITH: They're skipping the low-level talks in this case.
MARTIN: He's going to need advice, the president, going into this. He's going to need professionals who've been working on North Korea for a long time. But we should note there's still no ambassador to South Korea - no U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
KEITH: That's right. And also, the top State Department envoy to North Korea has just announced his retirement.
MARTIN: All right. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith for us this morning.
Hey Tam, thanks as always.
KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.