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Trump Administration Moves Forward With Historic Summit Despite Doubt From North Korea


The Trump administration says it is moving ahead with plans for the president to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore next month. North Korea has cast doubts on the summit happening, complaining about some of the things President Trump's aides are saying and complaining about U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises. NPR's Michele Kelemen has the latest.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: National Security Adviser John Bolton raised eyebrows recently when he suggested that the U.S. use the Libya model to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi gave up a nascent nuclear program back in 2003. Gadhafi was killed eight years later in an uprising that was backed by NATO forces. A North Korean official who describes Bolton as repugnant says this is a sinister move to impose the destiny of Libya on, quote, "our dignified state." At the White House today, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wasn't talking about a Libya model.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, this is the President Trump model. He's going to run this the way he sees fit. We're 100 percent confident, as we've said many times before. And as we all know that you're aware, he's the best negotiator.

KELEMEN: But the White House needs to get its messaging straight, says Frank Aum, a North Korea watcher at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He says North Korea remembers that Bolton helped make the case in the Bush administration to pull out of a nuclear agreement with Pyongyang. And he has a long track record of tough rhetoric as a Fox News commentator.

FRANK AUM: John Bolton has said that now that he's a member of this administration, he has to support the president's policy. I think there are many sides, including North Korea, that are very skeptical about that. And this may be North Korea's attempt to separate John Bolton from the president and sow some divisions there.

KELEMEN: Aum, a former Defense Department official, also believes it was a mistake for the U.S. and South Korea to include stealth fighters and B-52 bombers in their ongoing joint exercises. That, too, is raising complaints from North Korea. But he doesn't expect any of this will derail the summit.

AUM: Both Kim Jong Un and President Trump are very much invested in having this summit happen. It's good for both of them in terms of their domestic audience and interests. So I think the summit will still happen, but I think it'll take some deft diplomacy to smooth out some of the rough edges in the messaging.

KELEMEN: Up to now, President Trump has been touting his maximum pressure policy, saying it forced North Korea to the table. One European diplomat says he's heard administration officials talk about the North Koreans, quote, "groveling in the face of sanctions." North Koreans, though, have said they're coming to the table having completed the development of their nuclear force. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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