RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The man described as North Korea leader Kim Jong Un's right-hand man had a working dinner with the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last night in New York. Kim Yong Chol is the highest-ranking North Korean to visit the U.S. in nearly two decades. With Kim's arrival, negotiations for a summit that appeared canceled by the president just a week ago have been kicked back into high gear. But can Kim and Pompeo make enough progress to lay the ground for President Trump and Kim Jong Un to meet in Singapore as planned on June 12?
Joining us now is Ambassador Robert Gallucci. He was the chief negotiator during the North Korean nuclear crisis back in 1994. Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us this morning.
ROBERT GALLUCCI: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: What message does it send that President Trump sent someone as senior as the secretary of state to New York to meet with Kim Yong Chol?
GALLUCCI: I'm tempted to say it means the meeting is back on. I mean, it would be fairly bizarre to have these two gentlemen meet in New York and have what's going on in both Singapore and at Panmunjom all happening at the same time without a pretty clear commitment to go ahead with the meeting.
MARTIN: Do you think it will happen on June 12 or is it possible it could be delayed?
GALLUCCI: Good question. I don't know the answer. I think that there will be a meeting. I think it's the key thing. If the day were to move to another day, if the meeting were to move to another day, I don't think that would be all that significant. But I think they're aiming to try to get this done by the 12, as pressurized as that makes the current atmosphere.
MARTIN: After yesterday's dinner, a senior State Department official again stated that the U.S. goal for this summit is, quote, "complete verifiable, irreversible denuclearization," which is a big ask. Is that even realistic?
GALLUCCI: In a word, no. Those words, CVID or however it is usually captured, was a standard a decade ago. And it does capture some of the intent to do something that is durable and more permanent than some of the activities that have been reversed in the past by the North. So it's understandable politically why we would have an objective like that. But, no, the idea that we're going to capture everything when there is a large country that we will never fully make transparent is almost ridiculous.
What we would be aiming for would be a level of transparency that would get at the bulk of their capability with respect to nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons development, production and maybe ballistic missiles as well.
MARTIN: So that same State Department official said, we're looking for something historic. I think we're looking for something that has never been done before. But what you just outlined is the fact that this requirement that North Korea give up, irreversibly, all its nuclear capabilities, you're saying that that's not realistic. So when the State Department says we want to do something big, are they just using this as a negotiating tactic in the beginning and they are likely to have to settle for something less than that?
GALLUCCI: No, I think there - as I said, I think there's a good political reason for wanting to say that we have a goal of taking a step here that will not be easily undone by the North. But irreversible is an impossible standard. The idea that the scientists and the engineers and physicists cannot put together what has been taken apart is inconceivable. The idea that we will know for sure if they declare they have 30 nuclear weapons that they don't have 35 and five more hidden someplace in North Korea is unbelievable.
However, I think that ought to be the standard. They're not wrong, I think, in wanting to have a durable and ideally permanent solution to the nuclear weapons program in North Korea.
MARTIN: So you have to say it even though if you settle for something less in the interim. I want to ask you, there's news this morning that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is in North Korea meeting with top leaders there, apparently this includes Kim Jong Un. Russia is a close ally of North Korea. Is their involvement at this moment a complication or is it helpful?
GALLUCCI: A great question and I don't know the answer. That is news to me. My feeling here is that we have been uncertain about exactly what role the Chinese are playing here. There was a point at which even the president of the United States suggested that a stiffening in the North's position was a result of an interaction with Xi Jinping in China. Now are we seeing the Russians insert themselves into this or are the North Koreans just trying to build the strongest hand they can possibly have with the few supporters they have in the world, namely the Chinese and the Russians?
I think mostly the latter. But it's impossible to know.
MARTIN: Who has the most to lose if the talks fail?
GALLUCCI: Everybody, though I would start with President Moon and the South Koreans. I think the issue here really is that the South Korean people, while divided over North Korea traditionally, are united in not wanting to see a second Korean War...
GALLUCCI: ...Brought to them by the United States of America. And what they are seeing now is the possibility of really having a solution to the problem with North Korea. And we don't need a crisis in the alliance.
MARTIN: Ambassador Robert Gallucci teaches at Georgetown, and he joined us on Skype. Thanks.
GALLUCCI: Thank you very much.
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