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U.S. is still trying to revive talks with North Korea. Here’s how

The pace of diplomacy with North Korea picked up over the weekend in an effort to revive the summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. What goes into the preparation for such a moment and can the meeting be resurrected in time? Nick Schifrin talks with Patrick McEachern of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Over the weekend, the pace of diplomacy with North Korea has picked up in an effort to revive the summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

    Foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin reports.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Amna, thank you.

    Two U.S. teams are trying to resurrect the summit. One is in Singapore, working on logistics. The second met with North Korean officials in North Korea. That team is led by veteran diplomat Sung Kim, currently the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, and also includes Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver and Allison Hooker from the National Security Council staff.

    These meetings come after another extraordinary show of friendship between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. They met this weekend on 24 hours' notice, their second summit in just the last month. President Moon is the man in the middle pushing both sides toward the summit.

    And to talk about all this, I'm joined by Patrick McEachern, a State Department officer focused on East Asia who is currently on leave at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

    Thank you very much for being here.

  • Patrick McEachern:

    It's a pleasure to be here.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Last week, a senior White House official said that June 12 is — I'm quoting him here — "like in 10 minutes," suggesting it was impossible to get the logistics ready by June 12.

    Is it impossible at this point to get those logistics ready?

  • Patrick McEachern:

    I don't think so.

    Look, in your intro, you noted how the North Koreans and South Koreans were able to set up a summit and execute it within 24 hours. It might take the United States a little bit longer to execute these sorts of things, but I don't think unrealistic that we should be able to get it done by June 12.

    The real challenge, I think, won't be so much the logistics, but the policy preparations that are going on right now.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Right, so the policy preparations are happening, presumably, as far as we know, in North Korea, in these conversations that are ongoing.

    Do these teams that are meeting, do they have to agree on an agenda, do they have to agree on a document that the president, Trump, and Kim Jong-un would sign together, or is it even less than that?

  • Patrick McEachern:

    I think it's — they need to agree on some sort of agenda. What are the two leaders going to try to accomplish when they meet in Singapore or wherever they might decide to meet in the end?

    And this isn't really an effort to try to tee up some sort of a peace treaty or a detailed road map, I think, to denuclearization. I think a successful summit would mean having a general road map of the way forward for denuclearization and what sort of reciprocal concessions the United States would have to make. And I think that that's what our team in North Korea is trying to hammer out right now.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So that's what a lot of experts seem to want, to slightly lower the expectations. But President Trump has not lowered expectations. They have been quite high. At one point, he was saying that the summit could create peace, regional peace and stability.

    So, do you think the expectations need to be lowered?

  • Patrick McEachern:

    Well, I think it's appropriate for both sides, natural, the two sides go into a negotiation looking to have their maximum demands possible, and then they narrow differences from there.

    So I think that's where President Trump is coming from in trying to say, you know, he wants to see denuclearization right away, but that that doesn't mean that that's the only thing that he's willing to accept.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So there's a divide on denuclearization, how quickly that may happen. We may see that play out in the summit.

    The other main variable that is going to — that we're going to see, of course, is the level of security guarantees that North Korea asked for and that the U.S. is willing to give. We heard President Moon say over the weekend the North Koreans have real concerns about those security guarantees.

    So what kind of security guarantees does the North want to hear from the U.S. in order to reciprocate with quick denuclearization?

  • Patrick McEachern:

    Well, the two sides will each define their own demands.

    And so, for the United States, we get to define what we mean by denuclearization, because that is — is our demand of the North Koreans. By contrast, the North Koreans get to define what they want in terms of security guarantees, and we try to find where a match is between the two.

    And while there's been a great deal of speculation as to what the North Koreans are going to request with respect to security guarantees or economic pressure relief, the fact remains is that Kim Jong-un hasn't articulated that to us yet, and so we really just don't know exactly what they are going to be looking for.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We saw these images, extraordinary images. To think that we have had two summits between President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

    Does their relationship, does that help push along the summit, but could it also threaten the alliance between the United States and South Korea?

  • Patrick McEachern:

    I think it absolutely pushes along the U.S.-DPRK summit.

    I think Moon Jae-in has really done an extraordinary job of trying to bring the United States and North Korea together. But, at the same time, he very firmly recognizes that his treaty ally is the United States, and that the reason why he's meeting with the North Koreans is because they're South Korea's enemy. They're the ones that are pointing 8,000 artillery tubes at the South Korea capital.

    So, Moon Jae-in is not really caught between North Korea and the United States. He's really firmly on the American side, but trying to broker a constructive peace forward.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But some people are concerned that there could be a divide between what South Korea has the priority, for example, of ending the Korean War once and for all, and the U.S. priority of denuclearization.

  • Patrick McEachern:

    So, it's always natural that allies are not going to see things 100 percent the same way.

    But the United States and South Korea have very tightly aligned interests and values. And I think that will overwhelm the differences. And the United States and South Korea have met a great deal. You have noted that the president was just here in Washington. Their national security adviser, their foreign minister have all visited Washington very recently in order to make sure that there is no daylight between Seoul and Washington moving forward.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    OK, Patrick McEachern, thank you very much.

  • Patrick McEachern:

    Thank you.

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