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U.S. Looks To Revive Talks On North Korea's Nuclear Program

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

So if the subject of North Korea will dominate the conversation between President Trump and South Korean President Moon, what are the prospects of easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula? Well, joining me to talk about that is Sue Mi Terry. She was a Korea expert at the CIA and the National Security Council, and she now works for Bower Group Asia. And earlier this month, she was part of a delegation that met with North Korean officials to explore the possibility of resuming talks. Welcome to the program.

SUE MI TERRY: Thank you for having me on.

SIEGEL: And in those meetings, what was your impression of North Korea's attitude toward resuming talks?

TERRY: Well, unfortunately their attitude was not great. They said returning to talks or dialogue to talk about nuclear program or denuclearization is completely off the table. There was absolutely no flexibility or willingness to meet to talk about their nuclear program.

SIEGEL: What would be on the table in that case since it's the nuclear program that the U.S. wants to talk about?

TERRY: What they want to talk about is - first, they said the United States should accept them as a nuclear power, and then they were willing to discuss formally ending the Korean War by concluding a peace treaty or a peace regime, which really means getting U.S. forces off the Korean peninsula.

SIEGEL: Which seems very unlikely for the U.S. to agree to at this stage, I think we can say.

TERRY: Well, it's very unrealistic for us to go from where we are to talk about peace treaty. While it sounds good in theory, you have to remember; we have a lot of agreements with North Korea, but every time, every agreement fell apart over verification. So what does a peace treaty really mean after we - let's say we get U.S. forces out of the Korean Peninsula or South Korea. They are still unwilling to get rid of the nuclear program. Or even if they say they are going to get rid of the nuclear program, how do we verify that?

SIEGEL: Well, what do you think the U.S. policy should be in North Korea, or what should it be looking for on nuclear questions if verification, say, is so difficult?

TERRY: This is a longstanding problem that the United States had to deal with since the early part of the Clinton administration. So this is not a Democrat problem or a Republican problem. This is a serious crisis that does not have easy solution. So even though Trump administration says strategic patience is over, I don't really see a lot of difference between the Trump policy and the Obama policy, which is really trying to just continue pressuring the North Korean regime through sanctions. Perhaps the Trump administration is trying to do that with more pressure.

SIEGEL: But would the answer then be imposing even tougher sanctions on North Korea or in some way trying to push the Chinese still further into using their influence with North Korea?

TERRY: That's right because people say that North Korea's sanctions have not been maxed out. It's a misconception for people to think that North Korea sanctions are very strong. Strong North Korea sanctions have been really in place for about a year and half, since February of last year. And for - in the Iran case, it took about three years of heavy sanctions. The solution really is continuing with maximum pressure with sanctions and trying to get China to do more. And if China does not come through, then we'll have to pursue secondary sanctions against Chinese banks and entities and see if that can get China to rein in North Korea a little bit more.

SIEGEL: Sue Mi Terry, can you just explain your sense of what the North Korean regime sees in going nuclear. That is, are they really worried that without a nuclear arsenal, the U.S. might overthrow the regime as they did in Iraq or in Libya? Or is it simply a matter of prestige and influence over South Korea?

TERRY: No. For North Koreans, this is a matter of survival. North Koreans have told us even in the recent meeting - and they've specifically brought up Libya - Gaddafi's case in Libya and Iraq - and said this is - nuclear weapons is the only way for us to absolutely guarantee our survival, and this is why we're not going to give it up. We're so close to perfecting this nuclear arsenal. This is our final deterrent against the United States. Ultimately it's about regime survival for them, and nuclear weapons guarantees it.

SIEGEL: Sue Mi Terry, who recently took part in talks with the North Koreans, is a Korea expert with Bower Group Asia. Thank you very much for talking with us.

TERRY: Thank you for having me on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROUS' "RECENSERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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