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Trump Administration's Latest Diplomacy Moves


We begin our program today by taking a look at the extraordinary foreign policy turns for the Trump administration this week. The U.S. pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal with Iran despite lobbying from European allies. And in North Korea, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met for a second time with its leader, Kim Jong Un. Pompeo secured the release of three American hostages and laid the groundwork for Kim's summit with President Trump next month. Later, in Seoul, Pompeo said the goal is the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.


MIKE POMPEO: If Chairman Kim chooses the right path, there is a future brimming with peace and prosperity for the North Korean people. If North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearize, the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on the par with our South Korean friends.

SINGH: We want to know a bit more about these stories, so we called retired Admiral James Stavridis. He served as the supreme allied commander of NATO from 2009 to 2013. He's now dean of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University. I started by asking him if North Korea might give up its nuclear weapons program as a result of talks with the United States.

JAMES STAVRIDIS: I doubt it. I think that the chances of him fully surrendering those nuclear weapons are actually quite small. My guess is we might be able to land a negotiation where we essentially freeze his nuclear program, we subject it to inspections. But I think he will insist on holding some number of those weapons.

SINGH: So far, we're expecting that President Trump will meet with Kim sometime in June. What are the potential stumbling blocks between now and then?

STAVRIDIS: I think the bet is that it'll be June 12 in Singapore. And so the potential pitfalls could be an inadvertent military clash between U.S. and South Korean troops that are facing North Korean troops either in the air, at sea or across the demilitarized zone. I think a second potential pitfall would be some kind of outside activity by an actor like China or Russia. And I'd say a third thing could be some kind of cyberattack that could roil the waters. But I think, Lakshmi, in the end, all of those are unlikely. I think this summit will go forward because the motivations on both sides are quite high to execute it at this point.

SINGH: Admiral Stavridis, I wanted to ask about the week's big news. Before President Trump announced his decision, several European allies came to Washington, D.C., to plead with him to stick with the Iran nuclear deal, but he did not. And indeed, Iran is not happy with his decision. If you were advising the president, would you be worried at this time about military action from Iran?

STAVRIDIS: Absolutely. And I guarantee you Secretary Mattis in the Pentagon is raising the level of military readiness across the globe but particularly in the forces of U.S. Central Command, which are focused in the Middle East. And a very practical example of this is the exchange of fire between Iran and Israel in and around the Golan Heights in Syria. This is reflective of the increasing level of uncertainty, tension in the mix. U.S. forces can easily be caught up in that, so we need to be ready for just about anything at this point.

SINGH: German Chancellor Angela Merkel now says Europe can no longer rely on the United States to protect it. Europe must take its destiny in its own hands, as she put it. You have commanded NATO. Do you think this is a common view among NATO allies?

STAVRIDIS: I know it is a common view among NATO allies. I'm in close consultation with many political leaders and senior military leaders in Europe, and they are dismayed with the way that this administration seems to hold Europe in such low regard. I was the 16th supreme allied commander of NATO. The first was General Dwight David Eisenhower. And he said, quite correctly, that America's greatest asset globally is our alliance with Europe. And I think we walk away from that at great peril.

SINGH: That's Admiral James Stavridis. He's a retired U.S. Navy admiral and NATO's former supreme allied commander. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.