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U.S. and South Korea ‘on the same page,’ vice foreign minister says

South Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Lim Sung-nam sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss what he sees as the foundations of North Korea’s possible denuclearization and next steps in the process.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It has been a week since President Trump met with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un. They signed a document that laid out broad principles in which the United States would provide security guarantees to North Korea, and North Korea committed to eliminating its nuclear weapons.

    But the agreement didn't have a timeline or provide any specific details of what comes next.

    So, what are the next steps?

    For that, we turn to South Korea's first vice minister of foreign affairs, Lim Sung-nam. He's a veteran diplomat. He has dealt extensively with North Korea.

    Minister Lim, thank you very much for being here.

    So, your president, Mr. Moon, called this summit a great victory. He said it is a huge step forward. And yet a number of American officials who have dealt with North Korea in the past said they didn't see very much in the way of specifics. They don't really understand that North Korea has made a serious commitment to denuclearize.

    What makes your president so positive?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Well, you should first think about the history of the relationship between the DPRK and the United States.

    For more than 70 years, there has been no summit meeting between the two countries. And for more than 70 years, there has not been any kind of meaningful agreement between the two countries at the level of the heads of state.

    And now that the Singapore declaration has set declaration set out big principles for going ahead with denuclearization, I think the two leaders have laid a meaningful foundation on which to further build the process of denuclearization.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are there tangible signs that you have seen that tell you North Korea is serious about carrying through with this?

    I ask because the statement they issued at the end of the summit was, what, one-and-a-half-pages long. And some of the diplomatic language in there was the same language that had been in previous statements.

    So what was — what is new? What is tangible?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Well, for instance, they had been taking unilateral actions, such as shutting down their nuclear testing sites. And they vowed to dismantle the key rocket engine testing site as well.

    And they also released three American hostages without getting any kind of a concessions from the U.S. side. So these actions do support the sincerity of the North Koreans in going ahead with denuclearization down the road.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So what do you see as the next steps? What is going to happen next? The North Koreans put out a statement after the summit. They describe what they see unfolding next. What do you see?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Well, if you look at carefully the Singapore document, the two leaders agreed to fully and speedily implement the agreement.

    And they also agreed on the need for the speedy follow-up negotiations. So, I'm sure and I do hope that, in the very near future, there will be follow-up negotiations at the working level to implement the Singapore agreement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are there working level meetings going on now?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Right now, I don't think so. But, in the near future, I do believe there will be some meetings.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you — will South Korea be involved in those? Are those just between North Korea and the U.S.?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Those will be the working level negotiations between the United States and the DPRK, but we also have the inter-Korean talks with Pyongyang.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The leader of North Korea has indicated that he is prepared to denuclearize, at least in general terms. President Trump is saying the nuclear threat is gone, it's behind us.

    Do you have that confidence?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Well, of course, their nuclear weapons and facilities still exist.

    But if you compare the situation with the situation about a year ago, then I think the changes have been very positive. About a year ago, we were talking about the sheer number of the missile launches by the DPRK, and we were afraid that there could be another nuclear testing in North Korea.

    But now we are talking about how we can go ahead with the dialogue. And, as claimed by Winston Churchill, jaw, jaw is better war, war.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you trust the North Korean leader, Chairman Kim, to go ahead with denuclearization? You have confidence he will do that?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Well, we believe so, and we hope so.

    And, always, a new history can be made only with optimistic assumptions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We know — we saw after the summit President Trump spoke about the suspension of what he called war games, joint military exercises between the United States and your country, and South Korea.

    He said, those are very expensive. He said, that's something I have wanted to do away with for a long time.

    Is your country, is your government comfortable with that?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Well, both Seoul and Washington are on the same page regarding the important issues like the joint military exercises.

    Having said that, the U.S. was also very clear that, as far as the talks with North Korea go in good faith, we can afford not to have the kind of the military exercises we used to have in the past.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Were you surprised? Was your government — did your government know ahead of time that President Trump was going to declare that these war games were stopping?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Once again, I would like to emphasize that our two countries have been on the same page on the important issue like that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you weren't surprised?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Well, I wasn't surprised.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask you also about security guarantees from the U.S. going forward.

    What else do you see that the U.S. could do for the North to make it more possible for the North to go ahead with denuclearization?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Well, at the end of the day, I suspect that the normalization of the relationship between Pyongyang and Washington might be one way of providing Pyongyang with a kind of security guarantee.

    But on the way to the kind of security guarantee which is — we might be able to provide for Pyongyang, I think the two Koreas and the U.S. might be able to declare that war is over on the Korean Peninsula. That could be kind of the interim step on which we can further build the permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think that should be done before North Korea dismantles its nuclear program?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Well, those kind of details can be further discussed between South Korea and the United States, as well as between the United States and North Korea.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean — you're saying it is a detail, but that is a pretty major detail, isn't it, whether there is peace, whether the war has actually come to an end, the conflict?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Well, I think what I am talking about is a political declaration. I'm not talking about the — kind of the legal agreement for creating peace regime.

    But, at one point, we might be able to benefit from the kind of the political declaration regarding the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think reunification could come in your lifetime?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    I hope and believe so. Once again, only with the optimistic visions, we might be able to turn a dream into reality.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And one other thing.

    What you have learned about Chairman Kim in these most recent round of negotiations that you didn't already know about him? What is he — how is he presenting himself as a leader, and what do you think his priorities are?

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    I think he is a leader different from the previous leaders of North Korea.

    He was bold enough to come to the meeting with the U.S. president face to face. And I believe he has made a strategic decision to get out of the self-imposed isolation.

    And, plus, in the past, North Korea was talking about the (INAUDIBLE) which is kind of two — dual-track policy of pursuing the nuclear and missile capabilities, as well as the economic prosperity. But they declared in April this year that their policy focus is now on economic progress.

    So, with all those changes, I believe he's coming to the meeting with President Trump with a determination to go ahead with denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This potentially historic moment.

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Yes, of course.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The foreign minister, Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam, we thank you very much.

  • Lim Sung-nam:

    Thank you for having me, Judy. Thank you.

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