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U.S. willing to offer ‘very bright future’ if North Korea denuclearizes, says State Department official

President Trump dealt with two major international security issues in vastly different ways this week. Nick Schifrin talks to Brian Hook, a State Department official who went to Pyongyang and returned with three Americans who had been held captive. He also led negotiations with the Europeans ahead of the president's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    In the last week, President Trump dealt with two major international security issues, North Korea and Iran, in vastly different ways.

    Now, foreign affairs and defense correspondent Nick Schifrin gets an inside view from a top State Department official deeply involved in both decisions.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Amna, thank you very much.

    With me is Brian Hook, senior policy adviser to the secretary of state, and director of policy planning. He went to Pyongyang earlier this week with the secretary of state, and he led negotiations with the Europeans ahead of the president's decision to withdraw from the Iran deal.

    Brian Hook, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thank you very much.

  • Brian Hook:

    Thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Let's start with Iran and let's talk about pressure. The administration has talked about wanting a better deal with Iran, a bigger deal with Iran that covers other issues, but Iran says that it doesn't want to negotiate anything.

    And before the Iran deal, before the JCPOA was signed, there was a lot of pressure internationally. There were sanction regimes from the U.S., Europe, China, and Russia. Today, Russia's — Europe's feeling a little resentful about the last week.

    China is willing to push back on the U.S. How do you create that pressure on Iran, when there is no consensus internationally to have a pressure regime?

  • Brian Hook:

    I actually think we do have pretty decent consensus, especially with our European allies.

    We have the same threat assessment, we have shared values, we have a shared commitment to nonproliferation and to ensuring that Iran never becomes a nuclear state. So none of that goes away.

    And so much of the work that we have been doing over the last three, four months with the Europeans, we think can be generated in a new context to get a much better deal.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Well, with all due respect, I spoke to senior European officials today.

    And they said that while you were very serious in your negotiations with them, they feel a little resentful about what's happened. They feel like we're not going to keep on negotiating. As one put it, you know, it's Pottery Barn time, right? You broke it, you got to fix it.

    How can you actually get the Europeans to do something in the next few months that they couldn't do in the last few months?

  • Brian Hook:

    I think we have a very good foundation going forward. We have spent the last three, four months trying to address the deficiencies of the Iran deal.

    We made great progress in a lot of areas around restrictions on Iran's nuclear program, adding intercontinental ballistic missiles as something which is permitted, a stronger inspections regime. We really tried to take a comprehensive approach to the range of threats that Iran presents with the Europeans.

    And when you look at President Macron's visit here recently, he also is taking a very comprehensive approach. And so I think when you look at the broad strategy, what we need to do to counter the range of threats that Iran presents, there isn't any sort of daylight.

    And so what the president, Secretary Pompeo are going to be putting together, a new effort to achieve a better deal that takes a comprehensive approach to the range of Iran's threats.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Until that happens, the Europeans are pushing the Iranians to stay within the deal, to keep restrictions on their nuclear program. Do you support that European effort? Will you give any incentives for the Europeans to keep doing that?

  • Brian Hook:

    I think, just speaking for the United States, the president has decided to leave the deal. Other members of the Iran deal are going to have to make their own decision.

    The president has decided to no longer waive sanctions that were in place during the life our sort of participation in the JCPOA. And so there will be a wind-down period of those sanctions, but we are going to be pressing ahead.

    The president's goal is to have a new deal. And how that sort of all gets sorted out, we're in very close consultation already with our European allies.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And what's the goal of the increased pressure? Is it to change Iranian behavior, or is it regime change? And have you already been in touch with some of the opposition groups?

  • Brian Hook:

    Well, the president is very open to working with Iran and negotiating with Iran.

    We're very happy to sit down and have a broad coalition of countries who all share the same goal. But one thing is that Iran is the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world. They have not earned the trust to have a nuclear program. They have lied over many decades about their nuclear program being peaceful.

    We know that it has prior military dimensions. And so we would like to get to a point where Iran no longer presents a nuclear threat, a terrorist threat, and has really ended so much of its destabilizing activity in the region.

    Iran has launched proxy wars across the Arab world. And so there's a range of things that — Iranian conduct has to change in a number of material ways.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Does changing that conduct require a change in the regime?

  • Brian Hook:

    I think from where we stand, we need to achieve our national security objectives, and those are organized around nuclear, missile and the whole range of terrorist activities that Iran is currently engaging in. And that's our focus.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Why doesn't President Trump offer to meet the supreme leader, Khamenei, like he has offered to meet Kim Jong-un?

  • Brian Hook:

    Well, he's just left the Iran deal. And we're now very focused on getting a new deal. And so I think you have seen the president has already said he's very happy to negotiate with the Iranians.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Would he meet with the supreme leader? Would he offer to negotiate with him?

  • Brian Hook:

    I don't want to get ahead of what the president has said. He has said that he will negotiate with the Iranians.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On North Korea, you have talked about irreversible steps toward denuclearization.

    What does irreversible look like? And how long does it take? Can it actually be done by the time the first Trump administration's four years is up?

  • Brian Hook:

    Yes, it can be. And that really depends on the will of the North Koreans to make that possible.

    And our policy is the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of North Korea. And so this is going to be what the leaders will be discussing in Singapore on June 12.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    North Korea has been very clear it's willing to talk about denuclearization.

    What is the U.S. willing to offer in response? Embassy in Pyongyang? Removing some troops from South Korea? I had one South Korean official joke to me that they should open Trump Tower Pyongyang.

    What is the U.S. willing to offer?

  • Brian Hook:

    The U.S. is willing to offer a very bright future for North Korea and its people.

    And that is premised, though, on a very big if. They have to dismantle their nuclear program.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But what does that bright future look like? What does it mean? What will you actually offer?

  • Brian Hook:

    Well, I think this is going to be the purpose of really the summit between the leaders is to discuss and to listen very carefully to what Kim Jong-un has to say and then also to have him hear from the president and what our goals are.

    But he is hopeful that this meeting will be a big success. If it isn't, that's perfectly fine. Our campaign of global maximum pressure will continue, and so we are just taking a different approach.

    We have had 27 years of U.S. diplomacy in North Korea. It has failed to achieve our national security objectives, and so we're just taking a new approach. We are not going to repeat the mistakes of the past. We're going into this eyes wide open, but very hopeful.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Quickly, you have talked about a big success. The president has talked very optimistically.

    But it seems that the risk of the summit is that it could be near the edge of a cliff. What happens if the summit doesn't go well?

  • Brian Hook:

    We don't view it as it being near the edge of a cliff.

    We have put in place an unprecedented diplomatic campaign. This campaign has achieved a lot of very good and early results. North Korea's halted nuclear tests. They have halted missile tests. They have released thee Americans in the last few days.

    So these are early positive results. But this is just the early stages of our pressure campaign. We hope the summit goes well, but we are very prepared that, if it doesn't, because we have a diplomatic strategy in place to achieve our national security goals.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And the president will walk out of that summit if he doesn't feel it's going well?

  • Brian Hook:

    The president is prepared to walk out of the summit at any point. But, as he said, he's very hopeful that it will be a success.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Brian Hook, thank you very much.

  • Brian Hook:

    Thank you.

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