MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Hours after Michael Cohen is to testify on Capitol Hill, President Trump will be holding his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi. This morning, the president looked forward to the meeting, tweeting, "great relationship with Chairman Kim," unquote. Now, Kim is already on his way to Vietnam, making the long journey in his special armored train. For insight on what we might expect from the Trump-Kim summit, we've called Suzanne DiMaggio. She is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. As a private citizen, she has participated in informal discussions with North Korean officials. Welcome. Thank you so much for talking with us.
SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Now, we've just been speaking with Congressman Jim Himes. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee that's preparing to grill the president's former personal lawyer. And I mention that because we were wondering how aware of these issues, these domestic troubles, if you want to call them that, is Kim Jong Un? And does that affect President Trump's negotiating position?
DIMAGGIO: I think it's a very important question. In my estimation, I think President Trump is coming to this second summit in a much weakened position than the first summit. He's facing more intense scrutiny from a now Democratic-led House of Representatives. He's losing the battle to secure his signature domestic policy - a wall on the southern border. Michael Cohen's congressional testimony is cued up to happen while the summit is taking place. So we can be sure that the North Koreans follow our politics very closely, and there's no doubt that they will take full advantage of President Trump's vulnerabilities.
MARTIN: Can you tell me a little bit more about these informal so-called track two negotiations with North Korea? Tell me a little bit more about, like, what is your role?
DIMAGGIO: Well, track one, in case it's unclear, is normal everyday government-to-government discussions. But because we don't have normalized relations with North Korea, a lot of that doesn't happen. And, in fact, until months ago, nothing was taking place. So track two are informal discussions where usually private citizens and experts get together to talk out about these issues in a setting that is relaxed, where you can have a candid conversation.
MARTIN: What's it like?
DIMAGGIO: Well, with the North Koreans, it's very - can be a bit stilted. They're not comfortable with open debate. They don't express different opinions among themselves. They really come to the table with one line, and that is the line from their dear leader, Kim Jong Un. But it gives you a chance to have some insight into what they see as their threat perceptions, how they view the world, what they think they can get out of negotiations, what their priorities are.
MARTIN: Well, let's - getting back to President Trump's priorities, the president has said he's in no rush to get North Korea to denuclearize as long as it maintains its moratorium on nuclear testing. And there are reports that the president is now more focused on getting a peace treaty to formalize the end of hostilities some 65 years after the Korean War. How do you understand the president's goals?
DIMAGGIO: Well, it appears that President Trump realizes that the strategy of demanding that the North Koreans denuclearize up front before they receive any concessions is not going to work. So instead, what I think is happening is a more realistic approach, what I would call a phased approach. In other words, we do something, they do something. And I think that makes a great deal of sense.
MARTIN: And I don't know whether this is relevant, but the president has signaled that he's interested in getting a Nobel Prize. There was that report that the administration had asked Japan's prime minister to nominate him and that the Japanese didn't deny the report. Does this affect what President Trump might ask for during the talks?
DIMAGGIO: Well, knowing President Trump and how he is so guided by how he appears in his own glory, I think it does. But I - we could still eke out some good progress. The peace declaration, I think, is a no-brainer for us to put on the table because it's not something that legally binds us to anything in particular. It simply says that the Korean War is over, and it is, it's been 70 years. For the North Koreans, it's highly symbolic. And it goes a long way to addressing why they got nuclear weapons in the first place - because they are fearful of an attack by us, a regime change operation. And this is a first step towards saying that situation is no longer on the table.
MARTIN: So tell me about Kim's goals as you understand them. What are you hearing from the North Koreans that you've spoken with?
DIMAGGIO: Their top priority, without question, is some reduction in sanctions. The North Koreans and the South Koreans have made remarkable progress in their reconciliation efforts. And they really have now cued up several what they called joint economic projects. So in order to move forward, they need exemptions from certain sanctions that exist now. And I think that this should be put on the table to (inaudible) them to give up some concessions on their side on denuclearization. I think the time is right to do that.
MARTIN: That is Suzanne DiMaggio. She's a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She's been holding conversations with North Korean officials in the run-up to Thursday a summit in Singapore between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Suzanne DiMaggio, thanks so much for talking with us.
DIMAGGIO: It was great to be with you. Thank you.
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