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Trump-Kim summit signals new breakthrough and echoes past problems

A historic meeting between President Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un began with elaborate stagecraft and ended with ambitious goals. But how does North Korea define denuclearization? And can Trump avoid mistakes of the past? Judy Woodruff gets analysis from Frank Jannuzi, president of the Mansfield Foundation, and Balbina Hwang from Georgetown University.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now we get the views from two people to whom we have turned many times throughout the last year, first on threats between the U.S. and North Korea and now negotiations.

    Frank Jannuzi is a former State Department analyst who supported the U.S. delegation for talks with North Korea during the Bill Clinton administration. And Balbina Hwang was a special adviser to the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs. She is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University.

    And welcome back to the program to both of you.

    So, as we reported earlier, North Korean news agency has put out a couple statements just within the last hour, essentially saying some pretty positive things, saying this relationship is changing. At one point, they said this was a radical switch-over from the most hostile state of our relationship.

    The other thing that they have said, Balbina Hwang, is that Chairman Kim is inviting President Trump to come to North Korea, and he accepted the president’s invitation to come to Washington.

    So, before I even ask you about the summit, what is this sort of after-the-summit set of statements say to you?

  • Balbina Hwang:

    Well, first of all, it’s remarkable that North Korea’s state media is actually responding so quickly.

    Normally, we would see several days, and it would be even more tightly controlled. They seem to be responding very, very quickly. But it is as expected. It’s celebrating this as a tremendous success. And it’s certainly celebrating this as Kim Jong Un is — you know, their Dear Leader is now accepted as a world leader.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Frank Jannuzi, look at the summit, look at the statements coming out of it. What does it tell you? What do you take away from it?

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    Well, the top line is very positive, which is, you have the two leaders for the first time sitting down together and making a commitment to peace and denuclearization.

    But the joint statement itself is, frankly, a very thin gruel. The North Koreans refused to identify what they mean by denuclearization. And as the United States and North Korea pursue that goal, we’re going to have to confront some really tough issues, including, does North Korea expect to have peaceful use of nuclear power?

    If so, do they also expect to produce the fuel by low-enriched uranium for those nuclear power plants? The North Koreans have been very vague about how they define denuclearization. And until we get clarity on those points, we really don’t know whether we have a deal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Balbina Hwang, did we get any hints from this meeting about the answers to those questions?

  • Balbina Hwang:

    Well, no.

    And, moreover, this is hardly a reset or celebration for a new set of — a relationship or even an indication that Kim Jong Un has made any kind of strategic shift, because, really, this joint statement reuses all of the same kinds of phrases that have already been reiterated before.

    And I think what this shows is that, despite President Trump’s pledges that he will not repeat the mistakes of the past, I think it shows the difficulties of what three other presidents really tried very faithfully to do, and each of them pledged not repeat the mistakes of the past.

    But it shows how difficult it is to get to the heart of these issues.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about that, Frank Jannuzi? And to your point about the lack of specifics here, could one take the positive view of that, which the administration is, and say, yes, a lot of work to do, but we have gotten off on the right foot?

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    Well, look, Judy, I think it’s really great that the two leaders have made the personal commitment to this process. That’s new. It’s never happened before that you have had the leader of North Korea, the leader of the United States personally pledge to this outcome of peace and denuclearization.

    So now there’s a lot of hard work that will commence. President Trump in recent weeks has been very changed in his tone. He has said that he expects this to be a process. That is completely different than the sort of rapid denuclearization road map that he had in mind when he entered office.

    So, this, to me, represents a maturation of his understanding of the complexities of the challenges before us. But we really shouldn’t sugarcoat this. Everything from the nuclear program to the missile program will have to be negotiated with excruciating precision.

    For instance, on space, do North Koreans expect to have peaceful space launch? That’s, as a technical matter, different than the delivery of an ICBM warhead. But, from a U.S. perspective, I can guarantee you that the Trump administration would prefer that the North Koreans forgo peaceful use of space.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Balbina Hwang…

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    Where will it end up?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I was going to say, pick up on that. And go ahead.

  • Balbina Hwang:

    Yes.

    And I completely agree with you, Frank. This certainly — it’s not that I think that this was bad. And I think it’s absolutely a good place to start. And I also think that, you know, the two leaders, it’s very important to have them meet face to face.

    By the way, part of the reason why we haven’t had much success is the leader of North Korea needs to be the one to absolutely pledge a new kind of relationship.

    Having said all that, look, the other thing is that North Korea poses all sorts of other threats. Never mind that human rights wasn’t addressed, but what about cyber? What about biochemical threats? Conventional threats continue to pose all sort of threats.

    There’s numerous other threats beyond the nuclear and the missiles that weren’t addressed. So, it — these — the threats go much further than that as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another thing. This was a meeting, Frank Jannuzi, between the president of the United States, the leader of North Korea. You didn’t have South Korea involved. Japan wasn’t involved. China wasn’t involved.

    And the South Koreans almost immediately seemed to express surprise about the decision to stop the joint military exercises.

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    Well, it was only six months ago that Secretary of State Tillerson vehemently and without question rejected the freeze-for-freeze proposal, freezing of North Korean missile and nuclear testing in exchange for freezing of joint U.S.-ROK military exercises.

    And Secretary Tillerson in January of this year said that that was completely unacceptable. President Trump five months later has accepted the freeze without getting even clarity about how far the North Korean freeze of missile and nuclear activities extends.

    So, there has been a big shift. And our South Korean allies were whiplashed by this. I think the damage can be repaired, but they’re learning to adjust on the fly to President Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Balbina Hwang, going forward, will these talks be just between the U.S. and North Korea? Or are these other players going to be sitting at the table, too?

  • Balbina Hwang:

    Well, I would slightly disagree with you, Frank.

    I think, in this case, the ROK is actually the player that everybody is missing here. These talks, the U.S.-North Korea talks, wouldn’t have occurred without the ROK. This was absolutely driven by President Moon Jae-in’s leadership, and it was driven by the ROK stepping in and saying that it must absolutely be the leader in driving the United States and the North Koreans together.

    Remember, it was the South Koreans that delivered that letter, and really brought this entire process together. So they were floored by this statement about the war games, but that was President Trump speaking off the cuff, as he normally does.

    I think the South Koreans were absolutely there about the joint statement. And they were clearly there, not physically, but part of this process.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, going forward, do you think they and others, the Japanese, the Chinese, are going to be part of this?

  • Balbina Hwang:

    Well, the Japanese, I think, are very, very worried. But I think the South Koreans are there and…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    And, Judy, the Chinese and the South Koreans are going to have to be involved, because you cannot end the Korean War without the Chinese, who were participants in that war, and the South Koreans being at the table.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Frank Jannuzi, Balbina Hwang, thank you.

  • Balbina Hwang:

    Thank you.

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    Thank you.

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