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What’s up for negotiation at the North Korea summit?

In Singapore, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered optimism that a Tuesday summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would set conditions "for future, productive talks." Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff from on the ground in Singapore to offer a preview of the meeting and what’s at stake.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A few short hours from now in Singapore, President Trump will meet North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, in the first ever meeting between leaders of the two countries.

    What’s at stake in this summit focused on the North Korean nuclear weapons and missile programs, among other issues?

    Foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin is there with a “NewsHour” team, and he begins our coverage.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, what President Trump called excitement in the air looked, on the ground, like a media melee. Cameraman and tourists tussled over a glimpse of North Korea’s delegation as they left meetings with U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim.

    The U.S. indicated the two sides made more rapid progress than anticipated, and that allows a faster summit schedule, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    We are hopeful the summit will set the conditions for future productive talks.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The summit will begin with a one-on-one meeting between Mr. Trump and Kim Jong-un, with only translators, 45 minutes later, an expanded bilateral meeting including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

    And it will conclude with a larger working lunch. President Trump will then hold a news press conference before returning to Washington, one day earlier than planned.

    Today, Mr. Trump visited Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and expressed confidence the summit would succeed. He also spoke on the phone to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, trying to coordinate regional diplomacy.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    If Kim Jong Il denuclearizes, there is a brighter future for North Korea. Tomorrow, we will get our clearest indication to date of whether Chairman Kim Jong-un truly shares this vision.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    At night, a relaxed Kim shared a stroll and a selfie with Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. He toured what’s usually a popular walkway, surrounded by a phalanx of bodyguards.

    The U.S. has pushed Kim to take unprecedented steps toward denuclearization. And, today, Secretary of State Pompeo said the U.S. would respond with unprecedented guarantees of security.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    We’re prepared to take actions that will provide them sufficient certainty that they can be comfortable that denuclearization isn’t something that ends badly for them, indeed, just the opposite, that it leads to a brighter better future for the North Korean people.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That deal, security guarantees for denuclearization, has been at the core of decades of failed negotiations, but there’s never been a meeting between a sitting president and a North Korean leader.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    In each of these two countries, there are only two people that can make decisions of this magnitude, and those two people are going to be sitting in a room together tomorrow.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Neither side has revealed whether they have an agreement to sign. And so, with just hours left, the fate of this on-again/off-again summit, Judy, is still unclear.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thanks, Nick.

    And, in fact, President Trump has just tweeted a few minutes ago.

    He said, “Meetings between staff and representatives are going well and quickly, but, in the end, that doesn’t matter. We will all know soon whether or not a real deal, unlike those of the past, can happen.”

    So, Nick, what is on the table? What are you hearing could be in a communique, if there is one?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Well, there’s two baskets that are on the table.

    One is the definition of denuclearization and the definition of peace. So, denuclearization is about the timeline, what can happen when and how long denuclearization takes. Also, what does the North Koreans do first and also verification. What kind of inspections regime comes with denuclearization?

    And then, of course, what does North Korea get in response? What is the definition of peace? What kind of security guarantees can the U.S. give? What kind of sanctions relief can the U.S. make? And also North Korea wants respect. They don’t want to be a pariah, and so they want off the state sponsor list of terrorism.

    And what we heard today from the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was a little bit of a change in the sequencing. He suggested today that the U.S. would go first, that the U.S. would try and convince North Korea that security was guaranteed, and then North Korea could take steps to denuclearization.

    In the past, Judy, it was the flip side. The U.S. was always insisting that North Korea went first. And so that is a significant change.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Nick, do we know what the people of North Korea are hearing about this summit?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The fact that they are hearing about the summit at all is actually the most significant thing.

    Previous summits, North Korean TV has not said anything about them to North Koreans until after the summit was over. And so this one is being covered not quite live, but almost live. And that suggests, perhaps, a confidence level on the North Koreans that this summit might go well.

    There is also a sign of benefit from the exposure. The North Koreans have long wanted to be seen with the U.S. president, and they are getting that and so they are bragging about that to their people.

    But it’s also about substance. North Korean TV has talked about wide-ranging and profound talks. And that suggests that the future could be different, and that the regime, the North Korean government, is trying to convince its people that, hey, we’re going to focus more on the economy and less on nuclear weapons and missiles in the further.

    But, Judy, I will point out the order that North Korean TV is talking about its priorities, a new relationship with the U.S., peace on the peninsula, and third, and only third, denuclearization, and so that reveals North Korea’s priorities.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fascinating. And we are all on the edge of our seats.

    Nick Schifrin in Singapore, thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thanks very much.

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