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What Could Result From A Summit Meeting Between The Koreas And The U.S.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For more on this possible opening with North Korea, we're joined now by Sue Mi Terry of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Welcome back to the program.

SUE MI TERRY: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: How big a deal do you think this is that North and South Korea are planning to meet for official talks?

TERRY: It's a pretty big deal, although I would caution also against going overly, you know, this sort of expectation that this is going to lead to a resolution anytime soon. But it is because at least North Korea is willing to talk about denuclearization. So they are now meeting U.S.'s precondition for talks. So this means, I think, the U.S. will sit down with the North Koreans and at least hear what they have to say.

SHAPIRO: What do you think brought North Korea to the table?

TERRY: I think there are several factors here. I think first, sanctions are beginning to bite and Kim Jong Un is looking for sanctions relief down the road. We know North Korean revenues from trade with China did fall to their lowest levels in eight years. Kim Jong Un is also following events and rhetoric coming out of Washington, D.C., very closely. And I think they are spooked by this talk of bloody nose and limited military strike and so on.

And I do think, you know, we shouldn't dismiss this possibility that North Korea is maybe - you know, they're looking to buy some time. It's also important to keep in mind that just because there is a pause in missile and nuclear testing it does not mean they're not going to continue to work on their - making their technical progress on their program. So we should be a little bit cautious here as well.

SHAPIRO: Well, what about this idea that we've heard that North Korea has made enough progress on its nuclear program that now they're willing to come to the negotiating table because they believe they have more leverage?

TERRY: It's - you know, there's a merit to that because they are about 90, 95 percent done with their program. They just really needed to show re-entry capability to for sure say that they have this capability to attack mainland United States with nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile. But they could very well say, you know, we're going to pause here and - to see what we can get from negotiating with the United States.

SHAPIRO: You say people should not be too optimistic that this would lead to disarmament. If a country is 90 to 95 percent of the way done with its nuclear program development, why would they ever stop?

TERRY: Well, because, as I said, sanctions are biting. They - it is hurting them. And they are so spooked by sort of unpredictability coming out of Washington. Maybe they bought this story that United States was preparing to move into phase two if sanctions don't work with the North Korean regime. But you're right. And we - you know, they are 90 percent done. And there's also 25 years of history of dealing with North Koreans. And we had, you know, several agreements with the North Koreans, and they didn't work out too well. That's why I am cautious having been following the North Korean issue for many years now.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Well, you say you wouldn't make any assumptions that this is going to turn out well. Heading into these talks, what do you think the U.S. could do to maximize the chances that it would turn out well?

TERRY: I think the U.S. should keep an open mind. What I'm concerned about is that this Trump administration is very cynical - with reason - of North Korea's intent. So they may come in with a very aggressive stance from the beginning. So I think they should just keep an open mind and sit down with the North Koreans and see what they have to say, hear them out.

SHAPIRO: What specifically would you be looking for from North Korea going into these talks?

TERRY: They should be - well, first, there should be a genuine moratorium on testing. And I would be looking for them to stop making any kind of progress, technical progress, on their nuclear missile program because if they continue it in - covertly, our intelligence may pick that up. And that's going to definitely turn the talks sour. So they should stop - just at least halt their program where it is right now.

SHAPIRO: All right, a lot to look out for as these talks go forward.

TERRY: Sure.

SHAPIRO: Sue Mi Terry, thank you so much for joining us today.

TERRY: Thank you for having me on.

SHAPIRO: She's a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW BIRD'S "DANCE OF DEATH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.