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South Korean President Meets President Trump To Discuss North Korea


For weeks now, President Trump has been hyping a historic meeting with the leader of North Korea. He's dribbled out details about the meeting's date, June 12, and location, Singapore, like breadcrumbs for eager reporters. Today, though, Trump warned the summit with Kim Jong Un may not happen on schedule and perhaps not at all.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There's a chance that it'll work out. There's a chance. There's a very substantial chance that it won't work out. I don't want to waste a lot of time. And I'm sure he doesn't want to waste a lot of time. So there's a very substantial chance that it won't work out, and that's OK. That doesn't mean it won't work out over a period of time.

CORNISH: NPR's Scott Horsley joins us with details from the White House. And, Scott, the president accepted North Korea's invitation for this summit more than two months ago. Why is it now in jeopardy?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, when Kim Jong Un first extended this invitation back in March, the word was he was willing to talk about denuclearization. That was the bait that drew President Trump to the table. But after weeks of conciliatory gestures, Kim has appeared to back away from that offer. So now the worry is the bait has turned to bait and switch. One person who's trying hard to preserve this summit is South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He is eager to broker a peace deal between the U.S. and North Korea. Moon is naturally worried about his northern neighbors rapidly developing nuclear capabilities. But he's also alarmed by the threat of a pre-emptive strike from the United States.

So Moon was here at the White House today trying to plot strategy with Trump and also trying to keep the Trump-Kim summit on track. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the administration is still working towards the June 12 summit as if it's going to happen. But he declined to put odds on whether the meeting actually takes place.

CORNISH: Now, what would it take for the president to go ahead with the meeting after all?

HORSLEY: Trump said certain conditions would have to be met, but he didn't elaborate on what those are. He did say he has a picture in mind of what denuclearization looks like, which may be very different than the picture in Kim's mind. To the Trump administration, they want Kim to completely scrap his nuclear program before he gets any relief from economic sanctions. Now, South Korea is open to a different, more step-by-step approach with both sides giving a little bit at a time. Trump was asked about that today and reiterated that he wants North Korea's program completely dismantled. But he did leave the door open just a crack for some negotiation.


TRUMP: All in one would be nice, I can tell you. I'm not going to go beyond that. It would certainly be better if it were all in one. Does it have to be? I don't think I want to totally commit myself, but all in one would be a lot better.

CORNISH: Now, how exactly does the president plan to talk Kim Jong Un into giving up his nuclear program altogether?

HORSLEY: Well, for years, Audie, the Kim family has been investing in that outlaw nuclear program as a tool of self-preservation. So President Trump today reiterated that he would be willing to give Kim security guarantees in exchange for his willingness to give up his nuclear weapons.


TRUMP: I will guarantee his safety. Yes. We will guarantee his safety. And we've talked about that from the beginning. He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich.

HORSLEY: You know, Audie, when the president was in South Korea last fall, he talked about the stark contrast between the economic boom in that country and the stagnation that we've seen north of the 38th parallel. Trump said today North Korea could have its own economic renaissance. If it was willing to give up its nuclear weapons, that renaissance would be fueled by investment from both the United States and other countries.

CORNISH: That's NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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