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Planned Military Drill Causes A Hiccup In North Korea Summit Plans


The summit meeting scheduled for June 12 between President Trump and Kim Jong Un looked a little shaky this week. North Korea said it would call off that meeting if the U.S. insisted they give up nuclear weapons. North was also upset about planned joint military exercises between the U.S., South Korea and Japan.

Sue Mi Terry is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and formerly worked for the CIA. She joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

SUE MI TERRY: Thanks for having me on.

SIMON: And President Trump this week explicitly assured Kim Jong Un he could stay in power if they denuclearized. Does that give - does that pledge the U.S. to help what many consider the cruelest regime in the world to stay in power?

TERRY: Yes. I mean, obviously, we're not even talking about human rights issues. But I don't think that's going to make Kim Jong Un feel any better. What he means is - because he can't - Trump cannot really guarantee him that.

So whenever North Korea talks about denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, they're not just talking about North Korea. They are ultimately talking about, you know, how do they guarantee the regime security? Well, it means end of U.S.-South Korea alliance, potentially getting the U.S. troops out of South Korea and even ending the U.S. nuclear extended umbrella that we have over South Korea and Japan.

So we have a very different definition of denuclearization between Washington and Pyongyang. And I don't know how President Trump can guarantee regime survival other than the way North Korea sees it.

SIMON: What are the implications for a summit meeting where, at least from the outside, both sides seem to fundamentally misunderstand each other?

TERRY: Well, this is why I think strategic pause is not a bad idea. And we have to do our homework. So again, we have a different definition of denuclearization, so I don't know how we're going to bridge that gap. We don't have a lot of time left.

And then, of course, we also want different kind of deal. Washington wants - so there's a difference in terms of sequencing and timeline. Washington wants a front-loaded deal, where North Korea dismantles all of their nukes first, before we do anything for them, like lifting sanctions. And North Korea wants a back-loaded deal, where they get sanctions relief and other things first, and then they will see if they will give up some aspects of their nuclear weapons. So there's a real gap there, and I don't know how we're going to bridge that gap in such a short time.

SIMON: How do you feel about President Trump saying, if there is no deal, what he called, quote, "total decimation," might result? Is this a good time or a bad time to bring that up?

TERRY: I think that kind of threat is very, very counterproductive. And, you know, messaging is very, very important. I don't know if that kind of messaging ever worked with North Korea. Already, North Korea does not want to look like it's succumbing to the United States. That's why they're having all these kind of problems, you know, like Bolton talking about Libya. North Korea does not take it well because, obviously, Libya - Gaddafi ended up dying - dead...

SIMON: Yeah.

TERRY: ...And there was a revolt. And they don't like the Libyan model. And they really don't want to be looking like they are succumbing to the U.S., and U.S. is threat. So I think that's not a right kind of messaging for North Korea right now.

SIMON: At the same time, has President Trump given up one of the most valuable things the United States had to offer, which was, in fact, a summit meeting, before North Korea's really done much?

TERRY: Well, certainly, a promise of a summit meeting already has made North Korea - sort of gave them legitimacy. Looks like a normal power, right? All of the summitry that Kim Jong Un has conducted since the Olympics - yes, we have given something away here, and North Korea has not done anything right now. So this is a high-risk situation, but we'll see what happens if there is indeed a summit soon.

SIMON: Sue Mi Terry, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, thanks so much for being with us.

TERRY: Sure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.