Longtime Diplomat Thomas Shannon On Trump's Foreign Policy
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
A North Korea summit that President Trump left with no deal, a failed bid to get aid into Venezuela, a Middle East peace plan that has been called dead on arrival - we're going to talk about this administration's foreign policy with a man who has had a hand in shaping it for two years. Joining us in the studio today is Ambassador Thomas Shannon, who's had a long and distinguished career. He was undersecretary of state for political affairs at the State Department until last spring. Good morning.
THOMAS SHANNON: Good morning, and thank you very much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, let's begin with North Korea. The Trump administration is saying no deal is a good deal. What's your view?
SHANNON: Listen, I think this summit shows that the president can walk away from a bad deal. And that's a good thing. And it was one of the principal concerns of many here in Washington and elsewhere as they looked at this process and thought that the president was driving it from his perch as president and counting on his relationship with Kim Jong - Kim Jong Un to close the deal. And I think he's shown clearly that he's prepared to return the diplomacy to his negotiating team, to Secretary of State Pompeo and to special envoy Steve Biegun.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Isn't it a low bar, though, that he is willing to walk away from a bad deal, that being the main concern, not that he can actually close one?
SHANNON: These processes are difficult, and the negotiations are hard. But the president, to his credit, has decided that this is something he's going to do. He's taken on probably the toughest foreign policy challenge he could find in the world and has decided to make it his own. Now he has to find a way to ensure that the North Koreans and our negotiators return to the table and can pick up the pieces here and try to find a way forward.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think he's leaving mano-a-mano sensitive diplomacy to the past, and he's willing to let lower levels and - or even the secretary of state - ensure that there is some deal?
SHANNON: Well, you have to remember the Singapore summit in June is nearly seven months behind us right now. And I think that Secretary Pompeo and his special envoy have put in a lot of time and a lot of effort. These negotiations, as I noted, are tough. But they're not only tough because of the issues between North Korea and the United States.
They're also tough because of real differences here in the United States about what we can do and what we can accomplish and how it ties to our larger strategy of nonproliferation, nuclear nonproliferation, in the world - but also how it links to our alliance relationships with South Korea and Japan and emerging relationships with China, not to mention Russia, which is one of North Korea's neighbors.
So I think - I think we're - we have to understand the complexity of it. I think we have to understand that the president has put together a good team on this. And now we're really looking at the next step. But I do think it's important to underscore that in this kind of negotiation, especially at this high level, you get to walk away from the table once. You don't get to walk away from the table twice.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. I mean, you used a phrase there, pick up the pieces. It's not just President Trump and North Korea. It's the president's son-in-law trying to almost single handedly bring Middle East peace after the United States took a move like moving the embassy to Jerusalem. You know, some would say that the Trump administration gives away the carrots, like moving the embassy to Jerusalem, without getting concessions and only selectively applies the sticks, like curtailing Palestinian aid. Doesn't that make it harder to negotiate?
SHANNON: Sometimes it can. Sometimes, however, that - what you want to do is try to rearrange the pieces on the table and do so in ways that are surprising or unexpected and can open space for - for talks and negotiations.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think Jared Kushner is the man to do that?
SHANNON: Listen, in terms of - if we're switching from North Korea to the Middle East now, I think that the president's son-in-law is a person of great influence in his administration. We are going to see whether or not he can close a deal, even present a deal at this point. But - but obviously, as - it's important understand that within our system of government, everything reverts back to the president on foreign policy. And his...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But as a career diplomat, you are someone who has spent his life serving this country at the State Department and in other roles. Do you think that really having Jared Kushner as the point person on something so complicated is really the - the best way forward?
SHANNON: Listen, at the end of the day, as a diplomat - as someone who's spent 35 years of my life doing this - I understand the expertise that lies in the Department of State and elsewhere in the U.S. government. And the extent to which that can be taken advantage of and used in an important way, it needs to be taken advantage of and used. And I also believe that the secretary of state especially, Mike Pompeo - really need to find a way to assert a role in this and ensure that there is a basis for moving forward in talks.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ambassador Thomas Shannon, former undersecretary of state for political affairs at the State Department, thank you very much.
SHANNON: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.