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World

The Tricky Triangle: The U.S., Russia And North Korea

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This past week, two leaders whose relationship with President Trump has preoccupied the world had their own meeting in Vladivostok. Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held their first ever talks. Both leaders took thinly veiled swipes at the U.S. And Mr. Kim said that the U.S. had negotiated in bad faith after a failed February summit. Joining me now to discuss this is Sue Mi Terry, senior fellow for Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Welcome.

SUE MI TERRY: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So while in Russia, Kim Jong Un told Putin that he believed that the United States had acted in bad faith at the Hanoi summit earlier this year. So what do you think he meant by that?

TERRY: Well, he was greatly embarrassed from the Hanoi summit because Kim knows he fundamentally misjudged President Trump. He believed that President Trump was so eager for a foreign policy victory that he would reward North Korea with maximum sanctions relief in exchange for the continued moratorium on nuclear missile testing. You know, and North Korea put up this one nuclear facility - Yongbyon. And of course, it - the Hanoi summit failed. And Kim Jong Un is looking for someone to blame for this failure. So of course it's natural for him to blame the Trump administration.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me, does Mr. Kim's meeting with Putin this past week reaffirm his image as a global player despite the failed summit? Does it send a message that the North does not need the United States?

TERRY: Well, certainly this is part of Kim Jong Un's calculation. He wants to show United States, China and even South Korea that he can still command at a world stage - meeting a world leader. But honestly, I think he was there to get some sort of sanctions relief.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And did he get what he wanted?

TERRY: For Kim, he needs to negotiate with President Trump. That's where he's going to get sanctions relief. And there are some sign that he's still looking for a deal with President Trump in a third summit.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And do you think he'll get that? I mean, what is the status of the relationship between the U.S. and North Korea now?

TERRY: I think there are two scenarios. I think if Kim put on the negotiating table this Yongbyon facility and another facility in order to secure at least some sanctions relief, it's not a bad deal for Kim and also gives President Trump an opportunity to claim that he achieved something that, you know, none of his predecessors had. But of course, a second scenario is that Kim simply wait out the Trump administration.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: North Korea has billed the United States $2 million, it says, for the hospital care of Otto Warmbier, an American who returned to the United States in a coma after being imprisoned in North Korea. Is this rare or something the North does often?

TERRY: No, it's not rare. North Koreans don't do a single thing for free. And actually, four years ago with another American citizen, Kenneth Bae, they demanded $100,000 for his release. So this is what North Koreans do. I'm not surprised at all that they demanded money. Of course, given Otto's state - that he was in coma, they essentially killed him - it's very brazen, even for North Korean standard. I mean, you would think at least on this occasion that they wouldn't demand money. But I'm not surprised.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sue Mi Terry, senior fellow for Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, thank you very much.

TERRY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.