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Amb. Wendy Sherman Discusses Upcoming U.S.-North Korea Meeting


Let's turn now to Ambassador Wendy Sherman. She was North Korea policy coordinator in the Clinton administration, and she led the Iran nuclear agreement negotiating team for President Obama. Welcome back to the program.

WENDY SHERMAN: Always good to be with you, Ari. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: So we have South Korean officials saying the June 12 summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un is a 99.9 percent done deal. And at the same time, as we just heard in our report from Scott Horsley, President Trump says it may not work out for June 12, and we'll see what happens. Do you think this summit is going to go forward?

SHERMAN: I think we don't know today. The president clearly understands that he may have appeared eager. The North Koreans may have taken advantage of that to say, maybe not so fast, that at the same time I think the president has said he wonders about the timing of the meetings of the North Koreans with the Chinese. And the gentleman that you referred to in South Korea said it was 99.9 percent, but he also said we're preparing for all possibilities. As you said, Secretary Pompeo is saying we're going to proceed going ahead.

So I think one of two outcomes from today - either the president is serious that he's not going to move forward, or this is to say, I'm not that eager. So you decide whether you're going to come to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula or not. And if you are, then I'll probably be there.

SHAPIRO: What do you think it was that made North Korea shift its language and actions from this kind of conciliatory outreach to threatening to cancel the summit?

SHERMAN: Well, as you recall, they also canceled some high-level meetings with the South Koreans as well after the South Korean-North Korean summit. And I think it was in part because of the military exercises and the B-52 bombers that were part of those exercises that the South Koreans then pulled back on not the military exercises themselves but the use of the B-52s. And it may be that China is saying, let's move at a slower pace. The Chinese have always wanted a step-by-step process.

And the president had put out the position that North Korea would have to take virtually all the actions that would be required for denuclearization before they received any benefit. You know, negotiations always start out with maximalist positions. And I think some of the jockeying that we're seeing here is everyone saying, you may have a maximalist position going in, but, no, we're not necessarily in the same place. So let's see if we can come to an agreement on an opening agenda even if it is to agree to disagree.

SHAPIRO: The players on the American side have changed in the last few months. President Trump now has a more hawkish national security team than he did before. Mike Pompeo is secretary of state. John Bolton is the national security adviser. How do you think that changes the U.S. position going into these talks?

SHERMAN: Well, I think we've already seen some of those changes. The president withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement. And at the time he did that, many of us said this was going to impact the North Korea negotiation, that it would make North Korea wonder if America was a credible and reliable partner. And even if North Korea didn't wonder, the South Koreans and the Japanese might well wonder. So I think that's playing a role here, too, in North Korea just wanting to make sure that what they're getting into here might lead to something.

And I've always been concerned and have said publicly many times that what North Korea considers denuclearization is quite different from the American definition of that term. And I think everybody's been fudging a little on definitions just to get into the room. Well, we're about to have real proof of what's at play here. And folks need to go in with their eyes wide open.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. In order to successfully carry out this kind of a summit, there has to be a whole lot of work at lower levels behind the scenes with the kinds of diplomats and career officials who are not often in the spotlight. Do you see that work happening?

SHERMAN: Well, I don't see it happening, but I'm not inside the administration. I certainly hope it's happening. I've been supportive of a meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un because in North Korea, only leaders make decisions. There is no press. There is no real legislature. There certainly is no we the people. There's no election. So I was for this summit. But it had to be well-prepared. And there had to be a serious negotiating team ready to do the very difficult work that will take months, quite frankly, to achieve results. That the leaders might set out a frame for that negotiation, what some of the goals and objectives were, what they were committed to doing, but the real negotiations are going to have to be done - perhaps led by Secretary Pompeo, but a team of technical experts as well.

SHAPIRO: Ambassador Wendy Sherman worked on North Korea policy in the Clinton administration. Thanks so much for joining us.

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