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China, Russia Call For New Round Of Talks On North Korean Nuclear Program


The United States has been trying to pressure and cajole North Korea out of its nuclear weapons program for more than 20 years. After the country's latest nuclear test and with reports of more missile launches to come, the Trump administration has found the options are limited. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more on where things stand now.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The Trump administration's ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, is leading the charge for more sanctions on North Korea. But even she is not convinced it will change Kim Jong Un's calculus.


NIKKI HALEY: Do we think more sanctions are going to work on North Korea? Not necessarily. But what does it do? It cuts off the revenue that allows them to build ballistic missiles.

KELEMEN: Haley was speaking today at the American Enterprise Institute mostly about the Iran nuclear deal, laying out a case for possibly declaring Iran in violation of that.


HALEY: We should always let every country know, whether it's North Korea or Iran or anyone else, that we will always look out for our interests, our security and make sure that it's working for us, not making sure that it works for everyone else. That's very important.

KELEMEN: But North Korea is watching, says Suzanne DiMaggio of the New America Foundation. She's been involved in informal talks with North Korean officials.

SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: In the case of the Iran deal, we now have the international community verifying that Iran is complying with all its commitments. And yet the Trump administration is still threatening to blow up the deal. This sends a signal to the North Koreans that perhaps the administration cannot be trusted.

KELEMEN: China and Russia, which were both involved in the Iran nuclear negotiations, are also key players on North Korea. And they're needed to pass new sanctions and enforce them. And as DiMaggio points out, sanctions alone won't solve this.

DIMAGGIO: Somewhere along the line you need a release valve. And you do need to pivot to an engagement track. So that's what needs to be assessed now - is the timing right to do that? And I would contend it is.

KELEMEN: She's advocating for quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy to set the stage for more formal negotiations. The trouble is the Trump administration has been slow to appoint Asia experts at the State Department or the Pentagon. That concern was echoed by Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat from Florida who served in the Bush administration's Defense Department.


STEPHANIE MURPHY: When it comes to international affairs in general and alliance preservation in particular, personnel is policy.

KELEMEN: Murphy was speaking today at the Center for Strategic and International Studies alongside Victor Cha, reportedly the administration's choice to be the next ambassador to South Korea. He has not yet been formally nominated and avoided questions about that. Cha also didn't weigh in on the president's tweets this weekend, though Murphy says it was a mistake for Trump to suggest that South Korea is trying to appease the North.


MURPHY: Here we are, facing an unprecedented threat of military escalation by a rogue nuclear state, and the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth chooses to Twitter shame and Twitter and flame our close ally. If one of North Korea's goals is to test the U.S.-South Korea alliance, as I believe it is, then Pyongyang must be positively gleeful over this Twitter exchange.

KELEMEN: The White House says now is not the time to talk to North Korea. Its policy is to step up the economic and military pressure to gain some leverage. As Congresswoman Murphy points out, the U.S. has yet to, in her words, crack the code on how to influence North Korean decision-making. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.