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World

Former Sen. Richard Lugar On Avoiding War With North Korea

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

That much-anticipated meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin took place at the G-20 meeting in Hamburg. But what happened beyond the handshake? The meeting of world leaders takes place as North Korea's threats and missile tests move to the front of world concerns. We're joined now by Richard Lugar, former senator from Indiana, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee and founder of the Lugar Center, a nonprofit policy institution on global issues.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

RICHARD LUGAR: Thank you.

SIMON: From what you could tell, did President Trump raise the matter of Russian meddling in U.S. elections with sufficient vigor?

LUGAR: Very hard to tell - but in any event, the investigation here is going to continue. And this will be a topic of considerable weight, seems to be, in the next few weeks.

SIMON: When - I - we should note, the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, told reporters Mr. Trump had accepted Vladimir Putin's denials. Secretary of State Tillerson suggested that each side made their point, and they just had to decide to move on. Is that enough, to decide to move on? Or should there be some kind of U.S. response if this meddling is verified?

LUGAR: Well, there should be a response, clearly, if there was meddling. And it does appear that there was some, and therefore, we perhaps should wait for our own investigation by Mr. Mueller to continue and to come to a conclusion before we begin to take steps regarding the Russians.

SIMON: President Trump will meet with President Xi of China. Presumably, they'll talk about the danger of North Korea. Do China and the United States have similar interests in North Korea, or have we been fooling ourselves?

LUGAR: We do not have similar interests. They are very, very diverse. It seems to me important - and I wrote a letter to President Trump along with Secretary Perry and Secretary Shultz and Sieg Hecker and what have you this week, indicating we needed to begin an attempt of informal talks with the North Koreans, a bilateral way. But even while we're doing that, we need to have on the ground in South Korea preparation for detection of any missiles. We need to be working on our ability to knock one out of the air. We've had some success with that.

In other words, these are steps that very clearly are there, even as we have our talks, so that the North Koreans appreciate the fact that they are not going to be effective even if they proceed for the next year or two. And finally, we need to make certain they know that in the event there would be an attack, it would be met appropriately and would be the end of the North Korean regime. Now, all of these things perhaps don't really trump any (ph) - much more of an alliance, which probably would not include China because China's interests do not coincide with ours. But of other countries, to impose economic sanctions, it'd really begin to dry up the enormous amount of money coming into North Korea, a lot of it from China - from Chinese banks, whereas if we sanction the Chinese banks, there could be friction with China. But this is something we're going to have to face.

SIMON: And let me ask you about the notion of bilateral talks because a lot of people have urged the United States to do that. What would that really accomplish? North Korea and the United States have talked formally and informally in the past. They have entered into agreements. And I think we can safely say North Korea ignored them to build nuclear weapons and missiles. So what's the bilateral talk going to achieve?

LUGAR: Well, the bilateral talks would have to achieve cessation of the missile work by the North Koreans. And it would have to include, as did the Iranian deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency or some other group coming in to assess that and to enforce that to give information about it internationally.

SIMON: Former Senator Richard Lugar is with us. Another quick question - does North Korea have the upper hand here?

LUGAR: No, it does not. We have the ability, given our expertise, to be able to knock out of the air, in due course, whatever they might shoot up. And that's very, very important in order to negate any value they have as they try to make their shots international.

SIMON: Former Senator Lugar, thanks so much for joining us again, sir.

LUGAR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.