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Trump's Off-And-On North Korea Meeting


A new twist over whether there'll be a summit with North Korea - the leaders of North and South Korea traveled to their shared border today reportedly to discuss restarting talks between the U.S. and the North. Now, this comes only days after the meeting was canceled by President Trump, who cited anger and hostility from North Korea. Now both leaders imply maybe the talks could be back on. Ambassador Wendy Sherman joins us, former North Korea policy coordinator. She worked on the Iran nuclear deal under President Obama, now a senior counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group. Ambassador, thanks for being with us.

WENDY SHERMAN: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: What do you make of today's meeting?

SHERMAN: Well, I think today's meeting is a good thing. President Moon was elected to his office on the basis of getting dialogue going with North Korea. So when I'm - in many ways, this meeting isn't a surprise because his future really - his future success depends on moving forward with North Korea. And when the president canceled - our president - canceled the summit, it was quite unexpected by President Moon. I don't think South Korea was given a heads-up in advance. And so after, I think, President Moon was - got over the shock of the sudden cancellation, he went to work, talking with President Trump, talking with Kim Jong Un and getting this meeting underway that occurred there Saturday, since they're many hours ahead of us. And so it's a good thing.

SIMON: Do you think U.S.-South Korean relations were hurt at this critical time by the way in which the president just seemed to summarily announce the cancellation of the summit?

SHERMAN: I do think they were hurt. But I think that President Moon is really showing the power of leadership here. He is intent on moving this process forward. And so I think he picked himself up after the shock and, as I said, went to work. At the same time, he has to be a little careful. He can't look like he is doing anything all of the time to make things happen that just can't happen. So he's got to do a little bit of a balancing act here to not look too conciliatory to the North. But at the same time, it was announced that this meeting was held to try to help salvage the U.S.-North Korea summit.

SIMON: And let me ask you about that because some South Korean experts seemed, I might say, a little relieved when the president said that talks wouldn't go forward on June 12 - that the U.S. might not be prepared. I mean, is a quick summit actually to be welcomed?

SHERMAN: Well, I share the concern. I was for the president having this meeting with Kim Jong Un because in North Korea, only leaders make decisions. There isn't a free press. There isn't any press at all, really. There is not a true legislature. And there certainly is not a we the people. So I was for the leaders meeting as the beginning of what would be a very, very long and difficult negotiation process that would happen at a different level than the two leaders. So it would take a lot of preparation. I am concerned that the U.S. is not prepared. And I think the South Koreans - many of the analysts there were concerned that the meeting - what happened - it wouldn't go well, and it would give President Trump more juice to consider a military option, which, of course, is catastrophic from the South Korean point of view.

SIMON: In the 45 seconds we have left, you worked with North Korea under the Clinton administration. What should the people working with North Korea now know? What did you learn?

SHERMAN: I learned that the North Koreans are very tough negotiators. They are transactional negotiators. They can make a deal. Kim Jong Un will be exceedingly well-prepared. His father, Kim Jong Il, whom I met with when Secretary Albright went, knew his brief exceedingly well. So President Trump has to be very prepared.

SIMON: Ambassador Wendy Sherman, thank you so much for being with us.

SHERMAN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.