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Meeting To Plan A Meeting: North Korea And The U.S.


Well, we know they ate steak, corn and cheese. As for what was said over dinner - that is a mystery. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dined last night in New York City with a top North Korean official, Kim Yong Chol. Their meetings are part of a series of negotiations this week laying the groundwork for a face-to-face meeting between President Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un, an on-again, off-again summit that appears - for the moment, at least - to be on again. I want to bring in NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what do we know about these meetings in New York and this dinner?

HORSLEY: Well, it's an interesting counterpart sitting across the table from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Kim Yong Chol is thought to be Kim Jong Un's right-hand man and his point person on these nuclear negotiations. He has a colorful history. He was responsible for that infamous hack of Sony Pictures four years ago in retaliation for an unflattering comedy movie about North Korea.

GREENE: Oh, right.

HORSLEY: He's also thought to be behind the deadly sinking of a South Korean navy vessel in 2010. And as a result of some of that colorful past, the U.S. had sanctions and travel restrictions on this Kim, so the administration had to actually pull some strings so that he was allowed into New York to have this sit-down with Secretary Pompeo. There is a remarkable picture of the secretary and Kim Yong Chol standing on a high point, admiring the skyline of New York City, and Secretary Pompeo pointing out some of the landmarks.

GREENE: So do we have an idea what these meetings are about? Like, is this just the Trump administration trying to get as familiar as they can with Kim Jong Un, or is there stuff that needs to be ironed out ahead of this summit?

HORSLEY: Well, in the words of a senior State Department official, what they are trying to do is to see if they have the makings of a successful summit. And I think key to that is trying to narrow the definition that the respective leaders have about denuclearization. The U.S. has long said that its goal is what they abbreviated CVID. That is complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. North Korea has its own definition of what denuclearization means. And so the two sides are trying to see if they can narrow the distance between those enough for there to be a successful meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un. Whether that happens on June 12 or at some later date - ultimately, that's going to be a decision that President Trump will have to make.

GREENE: Well, you have to imagine that the North Koreans come to a meeting like this with some demands, saying, you know, if you're going to tell us to shutter our nuclear program, what's in it for us? Is there any notion of what the United States might need to offer in return?

HORSLEY: Well, again, to quote a senior State Department official, what North Korea has defined as what it wants is security. And for a long time, Kim Jong Un and his family have believed the best way to ensure their security - that is, their country's security and their regime's security - was to develop a nuclear weapons program. So the U.S. is trying to convince them to the contrary - that, in fact, those weapons are making them less safe - and perhaps offering alternative security guarantees. We've heard President Trump say he's willing to provide some kind of security guarantee to North Korea and also an opportunity for that country to have greater prosperity. Kim Yong Chol might have gotten a taste of that greater prosperity. You mentioned the beef and the corn, David. You didn't mention the ice cream they had.

GREENE: (Laughter).

HORSLEY: And in very, very brief remarks to reporters last night, Secretary Pompeo touted the American beef, sounding very much like the Kansas congressman he used to be.

GREENE: Yeah. I promise never to forget dessert again, Scott.

HORSLEY: (Laughter).

GREENE: So what happens next? I mean, the White House is saying they're plowing ahead, thinking this summit is still going to take place in a matter of weeks. What happens next, here?

HORSLEY: Again, it's going to be up to the president to decide go or no go, and that's on the basis of, you know, whether they can make enough difference in these talks, as well as talks that are underway in the Demilitarized Zone with veteran nuclear diplomat Sung Kim.

GREENE: All right, NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley with the latest on that summit that might be coming up next month. Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.