Susan Rice On North Korea Summit NPR's Steve Inskeep speaks with former U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice about President Trump's meeting with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, which ended with no agreement.
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Susan Rice On North Korea Summit

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Susan Rice On North Korea Summit

Susan Rice On North Korea Summit

Susan Rice On North Korea Summit

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NPR's Steve Inskeep speaks with former U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice about President Trump's meeting with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, which ended with no agreement.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In books and in speeches, President Trump has often promoted the power of walking away from a deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am always prepared to walk. I'm never afraid to walk from a deal.

INSKEEP: And that's what the president did in Vietnam today. He met with North Korea's Kim Jong Un. The two leaders discussed a deal - North Korea gives up nuclear weapons; the U.S. lifts economic sanctions. But in a news conference before leaving Hanoi, the president said North Korea was not willing to close all of its nuclear sites and wanted sanctions relief in advance.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: We had a really, I think, a very productive time. We thought - and I thought and Secretary Pompeo felt that it wasn't a good thing to be signing anything.

INSKEEP: Well, what to make of this, and what happens now? Susan Rice is on the line. She was President Obama's national security adviser and U.N. ambassador.

Ambassador, welcome to the program.

SUSAN RICE: Hi, Steve. Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: I want to note for people that you wrote the other day in The New York Times of the widespread fear that President Trump would give away too much, be too desperate for a deal. Did he make the right move in walking away?

RICE: Yes, he did. For the United States to have agreed to lift all sanctions in the absence of real and complete denuclearization would have been a tremendous mistake. And so what would have been optimal - or certainly more practical - would have been an incremental deal, where some progress was made towards denuclearization in exchange for some partial lifting of sanctions. That apparently was not achievable with Kim Jong Un insisting on a complete lifting of sanctions in exchange for not even dismantling all of the known nuclear facilities, much less giving up the weapons and missiles that he's already developed, would have been unacceptable. And I think the president made the right call.

INSKEEP: The president alluded to discussing various scenarios before giving up. We don't really know, but maybe they were the same kind of limited deals that you were talking about. Did the United States get anything out of this disappointment then?

RICE: Well, not anything that we didn't have going in. And Steve, that's the risk of starting diplomacy of this delicacy at the highest level - at the leader level. Now, obviously, it hasn't worked at lower levels to date, and so I don't begrudge the administration trying at the top level. But when the leaders fail, under the spotlight, to reach a deal, it's harder to put Humpty Dumpty back together. But if there remains a moratorium on testing of nuclear weapons as well as ballistic missiles, that's certainly better than the alternative. But people shouldn't confuse a moratorium on testing with a freeze of their nuclear program. They continue to make fissile material. They continue to progress towards increasing their nuclear arsenal or the material to increase their nuclear arsenal. And they continue to be able to do development and research on their ballistic missile programs. So this program continues to progress. The threat remains - if not increases over time. And we have not achieved the progress that we all hoped might be conceivable coming out of this second summit.

INSKEEP: Well, did North Korea, then, make a certain amount of progress toward what's widely seen as North Korea's goal, which is to somehow get sanctions lifted, somehow rejoin the international community - the community of nations - but still keep some kind of nuclear capability?

RICE: Well, North Korea has achieved, you know, coming out of the darkness with its leader now having shared the global stage twice with the president of the United States. And that in itself is a big gain for North Korea. It's not the same as having sanctions lifted. It's not the same as economic development being jumpstarted. But you know, the intelligence community has long been extremely skeptical - and I believe for all the right reasons - that North Korea will actually be willing, at the end of the day, to completely denuclearize. And so the challenge - the reason this hasn't gotten done before is because it's a very hard problem. It's not because prior administrations have not tried. And I think we have to have realistic expectations. But North Korea and Kim Jong Un have succeeded to some extent in rehabilitating their international standing and their image. And we have given him - them that through these summits, but they have not achieved any real tangible progress in terms of the easing of economic pressure...

INSKEEP: Well...

RICE: ...Except to the extent that some of the other countries, like China and South Korea and Russia, have taken the opportunity of diplomacy to loosen their enforcement.

INSKEEP: Now, you said the intelligence community in the U.S. is very skeptical that North Korea will ever give up nuclear weapons. That certainly seems to have been borne out by the results - or non-results - of this summit. So if we take that as reality, what do you do? It seems to me you have an option to just keep asking North Korea. You could crank up the pressure and threaten force. Or you could just set some lower goal and try to accept North Korea with nuclear weapons. What is an appropriate choice for the president?

RICE: Well, I think the economic pressure needs to be sustained. We need to get back to the business of regrouping with our allies and partners and countries like China and Russia to agree that the enforcement of the existing sanctions needs to be tightened. And we need to be prepared to consider further sanctions if there's no progress. I don't think we should...

INSKEEP: So keep asking even though the answer may continue to be no?

RICE: Well, it's not asking. It's a matter of continuing the diplomacy but also increasing the pressure. One thing we can say we learned out of this today is how much the North Koreans really want sanctions relief. And so there is some leverage that we continue to have.

INSKEEP: Ambassador Rice, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

RICE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Susan Rice was President Obama's ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser.

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