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The Art Of Dealing With North Korea


North Korea has issued a new threat to back out of the summit set for Singapore next month. And it is singling out comments made by Vice President Mike Pence. Pence told Fox News on Monday that North Korea could wind up like the toppled regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. North Korea called those comments, quote, "ignorant and stupid," and yesterday's tough language from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo didn't necessarily ease the tension.


MIKE POMPEO: We have made zero concessions to Chairman Kim to date, and we have no intention of doing so.

MARTIN: Here to help us decipher what these signals might mean is Gary Samore. He was an arms control negotiator in the Obama administration with expertise on North Korea. Mr. Samore, thanks for being with us.

GARY SAMORE: Good morning, nice to be here.

MARTIN: All right, so both sides using some harsh rhetoric. No one has walked away from these talks yet officially. Is it fair to assume there is perhaps more negotiating room than either side is willing to admit at this point?

SAMORE: Well, right now, both sides are working, I assume, on the documents of the summit. There'd be some public declaration and perhaps some private documents. And naturally, as we approach the summit, there are going to be some significant differences. So I think we're seeing posturing on both sides indicating what's acceptable and President Trump being careful to show that he's not too anxious to come to this meeting if he doesn't get his own way.

MARTIN: President Trump and Kim Jong Un have separately used the word denuclearization. It's a mouthful. They talk about this as the goal of the talks, but does that word mean the same thing to each leader?

SAMORE: Well, I think what's different is the process of denuclearization. At the end of the day, both sides mean the same thing. There would be no nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. But we want that process to take place very swiftly in as few steps as possible and with as few conditions as possible. For the North Koreans, it's the opposite. They want it to take place as long as possible, cut up into as many little steps and with as many conditions as possible. So it obviously is not going to be possible to resolve all of those differences before...

MARTIN: Right.

SAMORE: ...The summit. So I think the real work will be after the summit when the negotiators have to sit down and try to figure out in detail what each side will do, what the quid pro quo will be, how it will be phased and so forth.

MARTIN: Oh, interesting, so you actually don't see this summit, even if it happens, as an achievement even in and of itself, that the real work will happen after. You think it's just a very expensive and high-security meet and greet.

SAMORE: I don't think it will be possible to resolve the essential details, including verification at the summit. There isn't enough time. So I expect the summit would be a high-level commitment to work together toward denuclearization. And then the real work will be trying to figure out exactly how to translate that into action.

MARTIN: But let's talk about how this might work because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is saying we're not giving up anything. We're not going to make any - or at least we have not made any concessions. But the U.S. is going to have to give something in this give and take. What could the U.S. offer the North that would move them?

SAMORE: Well, again, it's a question of phasing. I think what the North Koreans are looking for is mainly economic benefits, sanctions relief, which is something we are in a position to bargain with. Plus, they want economic assistance and cooperation. That will mainly come from South Korea and China. And then there's an element of security assurances, although I think that's probably less important from North Korea's standpoint than the economic benefits. What we want to do is hold out all of those rewards until after we're satisfied that North Korea has given up its nuclear weapons and nuclear production capability. The North Koreans, as I said, want to stagger the benefits so that they get something in return for each step they take toward denuclearization. And, again, that can't be worked out at the summit level. It has to be worked out by negotiators. It could take months or years to work out those details.

MARTIN: Let me ask you about this Libya model we keep hearing about. John Bolton, national security adviser, was the first to broach it. Then the vice president just recently referencing this again. It's important to note what happened in Libya, right? Gadhafi agreed to a U.S.-brokered deal. He held up his end of the agreement, gave up his nuclear material and in the end was still killed by his own people. So why would the administration be threatening a Libya model? Why would that compel the North?

SAMORE: Well, when people in the arms control business say Libya model, what they're talking about is the 2003 agreement in which, as you say, Gadhafi agreed to give up his nuclear, biological, chemical weapons program and his missiles, shipped most of it out of the country or destroy it on the ground in Libya. And in return, he got basically sanctions relief and a normalization of relations with the U.S. and the U.K. The fact that he was killed, you know, almost 10 years later in the course of an uprising, that's not what people mean when they say Libya model.

MARTIN: Although it might be what the North interprets from that. Gary Samore, executive director for Harvard's Belfer Center, thanks so much.

SAMORE: Thank you. Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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