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Trump To Discuss North Korea Crisis While In Germany For G-20 Summit


As President Trump heads to Europe for the second overseas trip of his presidency, he's got a foreign policy challenge of the first degree on his hands. American officials have confirmed that North Korea has tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, a weapon with enough range to reach Alaska. We're joined now by White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, a lot of experts have said for a long time that the nuclear threat from North Korea was bad but not as bad as it would be if that country could demonstrate a capability to strike the U.S. Now, it looks like they do have that capability. So how is the administration framing this?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Though they don't yet, as far as we know, have the capability of putting a warhead on that missile. So there are still steps that they haven't made yet. They haven't gotten a warhead small enough, experts say. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been the main voice on this from the administration. He put out a statement saying last night that global action is required to stop a global threat.

He said, any country that provides economic or military benefits to North Korea is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime. He says all nations should publicly demonstrate to North Korea that there are consequences to their pursuit for nuclear weapons. But, you know, he's saying that they want a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This is still very much in the realm of diplomacy, though the U.S. and South Korea yesterday conducted a joint military exercise, launching missiles off the east coast of South Korea.

MARTIN: I imagine this is going to play into conversations the president's going to have when he's in Europe this week?

KEITH: Absolutely. So the second part of the president's trip will take him to Germany for the G-20 meeting. And all the major regional players dealing with the North Korea problem will be there. And they're going to have a lot more to talk about than they did just, you know, 48 hours ago. President Trump will be meeting with Chinese President Xi, who he initially thought was going to be a good partner in standing up to North Korea. But since then, the president has expressed some disappointment that that hasn't really worked out the way he had hoped.

Also, the president will be meeting with South Korean President Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. You know, President Trump as recently as last week said that the era of strategic patience is over when it comes to North Korea. But it's not really clear what that means beyond diplomatic and economic pressure, which is what they're doing now, what they have been doing and what administrations past were doing.

MARTIN: So the last time the president was in Europe, there was a lot of tension around the fact that he didn't affirm the NATO alliance in the way that European leaders wanted him to. Is he going to do that this time? Do we know?

KEITH: Well, his aides say that he will, that he will affirm his commitment to NATO's mutual defense treaty. But they said that last time, too, and then it didn't end up happening. So we really have to wait right up until the moment that the president speaks.

MARTIN: Speaks, yeah, what comes out. Yeah.

KEITH: He's supposed to give a big speech in Poland and talk about his vision for the future of the transatlantic relationship. And when he does that, we will know if he has reaffirmed his commitment to Article 5.

MARTIN: OK. So the other big news happening at the G-20, President Trump is going to meet with Vladimir Putin on the sides of this. This is their first face-to-face meeting. Is the White House giving any indications about what the agenda for that meeting is?

KEITH: No. In fact, national security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters - now, this was about a week ago, but as far as we know, nothing has changed - that the president had no specific agenda for his discussions with Vladimir Putin. But there is a lot that they could talk about. You know, there's the ongoing fight against ISIS. There's the conflict in Syria, where Russia is aiding the Assad regime and where the the U.S. has shot down some Syrian drones.

MARTIN: Also Russian meddling in the U.S. election maybe?

KEITH: Just a little thing called Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Yes, the U.S. intelligence community says with strong confidence that Russia was meddling in the U.S. election, but it's not clear whether the president will push on that. When reporters asked asked McMaster about it, he kind of didn't really answer.

MARTIN: So you were at the G-7 back in May, which was this meeting that kind of got awkward. So what are you going to be looking for as the G-20 unfolds?

KEITH: Well, just how awkward the G-20 will be because going into the G-7, the - all of the nations were trying to get President Trump to stay in the Paris climate accord. Well, the president immediately after that meeting pulled out. And this will be their first gathering once again following that.

MARTIN: NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.