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Ambassador Joseph Yun Weighs In On Upcoming U.S.-North Korea Meeting


We're going to turn now to Ambassador Joseph Yun. Until a couple of months ago, he was the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy. He was also the last person to have met the three Americans detained in North Korea who returned to the U.S. just this week. Now he's senior adviser for The Asia Group consulting firm. Welcome to the program.

JOSEPH YUN: Thank you. Good to be with you.

CORNISH: I want to tackle a question we just heard from our reporter. The U.S. wants North Korea to completely denuclearize. Do we have any idea what North Korea thinks that means? What's the sort of disconnect maybe that might be coming up?

YUN: Well, I think disconnect is a good word. I think there is a gap between what North Korea is prepared to do and what United States wants them to. We must remember that this is a beginning of a process. This is really the first time that the two countries are engaging for many, many years. So I think to expect big results, immediate results - for example, immediate or quick denuclearization - is really setting the bar too high.

I would hope that when the two leaders meet in Singapore on June 12, they will come out with some broad agreement and few concrete steps and a process and perhaps an agreement, for example, to get together again in six months or so to review the progress. So let's not have undue expectations, and - you know, because if you have too big expectations, that really is setting it for failure.

CORNISH: Now, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at Stanford today, and she had this advice for President Trump.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Mr. President, don't try to make the deal at the table yourself. I know you're a great deal-maker, but don't make a deal with Kim Jong Un. Let Mike Pompeo and the experts make the deal. Have the photo-op. Declare peace, and then let somebody else negotiate it.

CORNISH: Ambassador, is that the right approach?

YUN: Well, I would agree with that. I mean, of course I would - I do know that President Trump has followed this issue very closely, and so it's not a surprise to me or many of us who worked in the administration that he wants a deal. More than that, I think he wants to meet with Kim Jong Un and really talk this out.

So I wouldn't go as far as former Secretary Condi Rice because he knows the contours of a deal. But again, let's not rush into it because the other side also might react badly. And from what I've seen, for example, the other side is certainly giving signals that they want something like synchronized actions and that it should be a step-by-step process.

CORNISH: So synchronized action meaning we make one step towards denuclearization, and then maybe the U.S. has to do something in the way of sanctions.

YUN: Yeah, exactly, something like that. I know that is repeating what we have done in the past, and - but some things, you know, you have to repeat. We may have failed. They may have failed in the past. But that's not a reason in itself not to try a similar process again.

CORNISH: What do you make of critics who say that North Korea could be using this essentially to stall while they covertly continue with their nuclear program?

YUN: That's an interesting question. There are really, I would say, two opposing views on why North Korea's doing this. One is that what you have stated precisely. The other one is that they are looking for a change. And to some extent, that could be true. They have tried, and they have actually reached the point where they do have nuclear weapons, and they do have delivery mechanisms. So to that extent, they have gotten what they want. They feel more confident.

And now they feel they can look for something else, which may be, as Kim Jong Un has said, better economy, better standard of living. And that is a hypothesis worth testing. But is he ultimately prepared to give up all nuclear weapons permanently? I don't know, and I don't think anyone knows. And I don't think he would do that until he feels he's ready and he's comfortable. And I don't think he's there yet.

CORNISH: Just a short time left - any effects from the Iran deal and the U.S. backing out of that? Some people have talked about it being a shadow over the North Korea talks.

YUN: I don't agree with that. I mean, certainly when I have talked with North Koreans, they have never mentioned Iran deal. I mean, let's take an example. Iran deal contained - JCPOA contained over thousand pages. The last major agreement we reached with North Korea - and that was - what? - 2005-6 party talks - was a page and a half. So we're not going to get into the level of details that involved Iran deal JCPOA. So we're not there yet by any means.

CORNISH: And I'm going to have to leave it there. My apologies, Ambassador Joseph Yun. He is a former U.S. special representative for North Korea. Thank you.

YUN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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