TOPICS > World

Can U.S. and South Korea share a North Korea strategy?

June 30, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
President Trump met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in Friday, focusing on a coordinated strategy for confronting rising tensions with North Korea. Moon has long advocated for diplomatic engagement and has delayed the full deployment of the U.S. anti-missile defense system. William Brangham talks to former U.S. diplomat Robert Gallucci about what their meeting means.
LISTENSEE PODCASTS

JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: President Trump hosted South Korea’s new president at the White House today, the first meeting between the two leaders, who are looking for a common approach to dealing with North Korea.

William Brangham has that.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: President Moon Jae-in arrived at the White House with tensions over North Korea still running high.

In the Rose Garden, President Trump pressed again for ending the North’s nuclear and weapons programs.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The era of strategic patience with the North Korean regime has failed. Many years, and it’s failed. And, frankly, that patience is over. We’re working closely with South Korea and Japan as well as partners around the world on a range of diplomatic security and economic measures to protect our allies and our own citizens from this menace known as North Korea.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: North Korea, led by Kim Jong-un, has already test-launched more than a dozen missiles this year, all in defiance of international sanctions.

South Korea President Moon has long advocated for diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang. And since taking office just last month, he’s delayed full deployment of the U.S. THAAD anti-missile defense system in his country.

Today, though, he warned of a stern response to any provocations.

PRESIDENT MOON JAE-IN, South Korea (through interpreter): The North Korean nuclear issue must be resolved, without fail. I also urge Pyongyang to promptly return to the negotiating table for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. President Trump and I will employ both sanctions and dialogue in a phased and comprehensive approach. And based on this, we both pledged to seek a fundamental resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Meanwhile, the U.S. has sought China’s help in trying to rein in North Korea. However, yesterday, the administration announced sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals over their alleged illicit dealings with North Korea.

But U.S. officials insisted they weren’t targeting the Chinese government. Today, neither President Trump nor President Moon mentioned China.

On a different subject, Mr. Trump again criticized the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea, and blamed a 2011 free trade deal for the imbalance. He called for new action to reduce trade barriers between the two countries. For his part, Moon played down the trade issue. And he announced that the president and Mrs. Trump have accepted his invitation to visit South Korea later this year.

So, where do things stand between the U.S. and South Korea, and how will the two nations deal with the North?

For that, we turn to Robert Gallucci. He was the chief U.S. negotiator back in 1994 when the Clinton administration persuaded the North Koreans to dismantle their plutonium-based nuclear program in exchange for economic benefits. He is now a professor at Georgetown University and chair of the U.S. Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

Welcome to the NewsHour.

ROBERT GALLUCCI, Georgetown University: Thanks very much.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Do you think today’s meeting between Moon and Trump will help forge a clearer plan for how to deal with North Korea?

ROBERT GALLUCCI: I think today’s meeting is a success, in the sense that the United States end and the South Koreans clearly indicated that they value the alliance very much and the alliance is important to the security of both our countries and the stability of Northeast Asia.

The way you framed that question, that it’s going to lead to the resolution of the issue with North Korea, is a bit of a reach from at least what I could take away from the meeting.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You and several other former Cabinet officials and senators wrote a letter to the Trump administration where you urged that they take direct immediate talks with the North Koreans, possibly send a high-ranking envoy to North Korea,.

Why do you think that’s a good idea?

ROBERT GALLUCCI: For a variety of reasons.

I think that people who favor negotiations do so partly because the alternatives are miserable. There are fundamentally three options in dealing with North Korea, and there always have been since the end of the Korean War.

One is to contain the North Koreans. And we have been doing that, and we have done it for decades. And we have been doing that actually for the eight years of the Obama administration. I would say that was a containment or strategic patience type of policy.

The problem with containment is that it doesn’t stop with North Koreans from developing assets and capabilities and threat that we would rather they not have.

So, a second option is to negotiate and to see whether we cannot reach an agreement with the North Koreans where they agree to give up a capability which we believe they shouldn’t have and is threatening to friends and allies. That is what we attempted to do in 1994 with the agreed framework.

A third option is to use military force, something which we are proud always to say is on the table, something we haven’t done. And, by that, we do not mean launching another Korean War. We mean the use of military force in some limited way to attack the capability. Right now, it’s not only the nuclear weapons, but it’s those long-range, ICBM-range ballistic missiles.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In your letter, though, you’re clearly arguing for point two negotiation. And there are some people, as you well know, in the foreign policy establishment who say you cannot negotiate with the North Koreans. And I’m just curious how you respond to that.

ROBERT GALLUCCI: I think it’s a fair thing to say that negotiations with the North Koreans are not guaranteed to succeed.

And, certainly, through the years of the Bush administration, Bush 43, the 2000s, there were many efforts by very capable people to negotiate with the North Koreans, and it didn’t produce very much. And even the agreement which stuck for eight years, the agreed framework I mentioned before, stuck for a while and stopped the plutonium program from producing nuclear weapons. Ultimately, it collapsed as well.

So, there is reason to say that negotiations with the North Koreans are not easy, they may not succeed, but they may be a way of getting to where we want to get to, limiting the capability of the North Koreans to do harm to us and our allies without the use of military force and without the risk of a major war in Northeast Asia.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The Chinese have floated another possible entreaty to the North Koreans, and that’s for the U.S. and the South Koreans to stop these annual military exercises. How important is that to the North Koreans and do you think that that’s a good idea?

ROBERT GALLUCCI: The North Koreans have said frequently that they are very unhappy about the U.S.-ROK military exercises. And I do believe they are unhappy about them.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You actually had some recent meetings with North Korean officials and you heard this very same issue.

ROBERT GALLUCCI: It was the first thing on their agenda that they were most concerned about.

What’s interesting about that, of course, is that, from our perspective, the alliance between the United States and Republic of Korea is key to both our countries’ security, and a manifestation of the strength of that alliance are those military exercises. So that will be not high on our agenda to give up easily.

Is that something that might be on the table, along with the nuclear weapons program of the North Koreans? Plausibly. But that’s pretty much down the road. I wouldn’t imagine negotiations would begin there. They would begin with talks about talks, I think, without preconditions.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Last night. Do you think the Trump administration has any interest in any of the things you’re taking about?

ROBERT GALLUCCI: I don’t know what the Trump administration is interested in.

There have been mentions by the secretary of state, secretary of defense and even the president of possibly talking with the North Koreans. I worry that, in their minds, are preconditions that will make negotiations someplace between difficult and impossible.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Robert Gallucci, Georgetown University, thank you very much for being here.

ROBERT GALLUCCI: Thank you very much.

SHARE VIA TEXT