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Latest On The North Korea Summit


It's on. It's off. And maybe now it's on again. No, we're not talking about a Tinder date but, rather, one of the most dangerous countries in the world - negotiations with North Korea. Here's President Trump speaking at the Oval Office last night.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I just want to mention we're doing very well in terms of the summit with North Korea. Looks like it's going along very well there. As you know, there are meetings going on as we speak.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yesterday, North and South Korea held a secret summit in the Demilitarized Zone - their second in just one month. The surprise meeting came after last week's diplomatic rollercoaster. So for more on what's at stake, Jean Lee is in the studio. She's an expert on Korean history and policy at the Wilson Center. And she's visited North Korea many times as a reporter. Jean Lee, thanks so much for joining us.

JEAN LEE: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. We had statements overnight after this meeting between the North and the South. Are we back on track for a meeting? What are - the two sides said? Where are we?

LEE: Another day, another drama when it comes to Korea. And that shows that things are very fluid. I think the past week, if anything has served as a reality check for all the leaders who are involved here - the leaders of North Korea, South Korea and the United States. But what we got in the last day was some clarity about their commitment to holding this summit. But whether or not that's going to happen - we still have some time. And the hard part still lies ahead - what they're going to discuss.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. You know, of note was what I think South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in, said, which seemed to suggest Mr. Kim was not certain whether Washington could guarantee the stability of his regime. That seemed to be the central question for him still.

LEE: He wants to go into this summit and be able to come out of it with some sort of agreement on a peace treaty and some agreement from the U.S. president - from President Donald Trump - that he can be reassured that if he does agree to some form of denuclearization - that the U.S. will change what they call their hostile policy. So he's going to want to come out of this with something on the peace treaty, something to end the Korean War.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does this meeting that happened signal that North Korea really wants this summit to get back on track, that they're really willing at this point to come to the negotiating table seriously? You know, South Korea's president was also elected in part because of his promises to reconcile. And they seemed to want it, too. Are we at a different moment?

LEE: This does confirm, I believe, that Kim Jong Un wants this to happen, that the fact that he requested this surprise summit with Moon Jae-in, the leader of South Korea, indicates that - I think it had two objectives. One was to really pick President Moon's brain on how Donald Trump thinks, what he wants, what he's going to agree to at that summit. He also had a second objective, which was to perhaps give himself a little bit of insurance because if things don't go well with President Trump, he can at least say, well, we Korean are on the same page. And we Koreans are going to push forward with this with or without you. So I think he had two different purposes here. But it's very clear that he wants this summit to happen. It would be historic. It would certainly play well back home in terms of his legitimacy. And he wants to get something concrete out of it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you make the argument that President Trump played the right hand here by suddenly pulling out?

LEE: I don't think that this would be the right way to go about it. But in the end, if we get to where we want - which is some sort of declaration or agreement for - to bring this region toward denuclearization - then I'm sure he can spin it that way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just quickly, you know, last summer, things seemed very dangerous between the U.S. and the North. How would you look at things now?

LEE: I think things still remain dangerous because things can turn on a dime. And we saw that last week. We saw the language change very quickly from being conciliatory to provocative. And so I think things are still tense but hopeful.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jean Lee, thank you so much for joining us today.

LEE: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.