North Korea Will Suspend Nuclear Tests To Focus On Its Economy
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Kim Jong Un says North Korea will shut down its nuclear test sites, suspend missile tests and focus on its economy. President Trump replied on Twitter, this is very good news for North Korea and the world. Big progress. Look forward to our summit. Now, recall that just in September, Kim Jong Un and Mr. Trump had launched taunts at each other, Kim calling Mr. Trump a mentally deranged dotard after Trump called him little rocket man. So progress?
Victor Cha joins us. Of course, he's senior adviser and Korea chair for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Professor Cha, thanks for being back with us.
VICTOR CHA: Sure. It's my pleasure.
SIMON: There haven't been missile tests for months. So is this announcement by North Korea just stagecraft?
CHA: I mean, it is different in that it is a formal announcement that they made coming out of their big party congress. But in substance, all it does is reconfirm what the South Koreans have said the North Koreans committed to do, you know, as you said, when the testing stopped. So in that sense, it's good. You know, no one wants the North Koreans to do testing. But it doesn't really tell us much in terms of whether they're going to continue to mass produce weapons, whether they're going to agree to rolling back their weapons, the things that we really care about.
SIMON: You know, many people, including Republicans, have complained that President Trump seemed to have a chaotic strategy or lack of strategy in North Korea. Is it possible all of the rocket - little rocket man bluster had some effect, though?
CHA: Well, I mean, I'm sure the North Koreans didn't like that. But I think what really had an impact where the sanctions. There are 10 U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea that are sanctioning about 97 percent of their trade. The North has never seen anything like this pressure before. And so I think that has certainly had an impact on it. And, you know, President Trump is - he's all about leverage. So anywhere he can find a lever to push the North Koreans, whether it's through the sanctions or through the Chinese, he's going to use that. And, you know, to some effect that's been - that's had an impact on their coming back to the talks. We just don't know what they're really going to give up at these talks. And more importantly, what we're going to give up, the United States - is going to give up in return for these promises not to do any more testing.
SIMON: What should the United States be prepared to give up, in your judgment?
CHA: Well, I mean, when I've done these negotiations in the past, it's always been a combination of energy assistance, economic assistance and then the promise - security assurances and then the promise of political normalization and a peace treaty further down the road at the very end of this process in return for them coming back to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and giving up their weapons. The difference now, is that Trump, it seems like - at least it sounds like he's putting forward peace treaty and normalization at the very front, which is what the North Koreans want the most. So that - you know, that's kind of dangerous because that - we could be giving up that for a promise of not, you know, without them really giving up all of their weapons.
SIMON: Giving up something substantial for little in return?
CHA: Well, I think that's the concern that some people have. All the discussion has been on what the North Koreans are willing to give up. And there's really been no discussion by the administration about what Trump is willing to give up. And there needs to be some discussion of that before the summit.
SIMON: You were, of course, reportedly under consideration for U.S. ambassador to South Korea. Recognizing this might put you in a tender spot to reply, what do you think of the team the president has assembled as these negotiations open, including Mike Pompeo, who may or may not be secretary of state at that point but had negotiations with them, the national security adviser John Bolton and the president himself?
CHA: So, I mean, John Bolton - I worked with him when I was in government last. I mean, he is very experienced on this issue. Whether you agree or disagree with his views, you cannot deny his experience on this issue and his experience in the inner agency and working within the inner agency. So that'll bring some order, I think, to the policy process inside the White House. Pompeo was clearly the North - the guy on North Korea. He - Trump has clearly made him the man - his point person on North Korea, whether he's CIA director or, you know, presumably, if confirmed, secretary of state. So, you know, I think it's pretty clear who the players are and what they're going to do. And you have a combination of experience and what looks at least initially like effectiveness thus far. But, of course, the big unanswered question is what happens when President Trump walks in the room with the North Korean leader.
SIMON: It sounds like you wonder about that.
CHA: Oh, sure, I mean, because I think, you know, people can give the president all sorts of information and put up guardrails in terms of what he should and should not do. But you cannot script this president. So when he walks into the room, we have no idea what will come out on the other side of that.
SIMON: Victor Cha, thanks very much for being with us.
CHA: Sure. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.