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Chances For A U.S.-North Korea Summit Are Less Than 50 Percent, Hill Says


President Trump is playing down hopes for a North Korean summit next month.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There are certain conditions that we want. And I think we'll get those conditions. And if we don't, we don't have the meeting. And frankly, it has a chance to be a great, great meeting for North Korea and a great meeting for the world. If it doesn't happen, maybe it'll happen later.

MARTIN: Trump met with South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in, at the White House yesterday. And the two leaders were supposed to be finalizing plans for the summit that's supposed to happen just weeks from now on June 12. But North Korea's threats to pull out of the talks last week seem to have deflated U.S. ambitions here. With me now - former U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill, who negotiated with North Korea under President George W. Bush.

Ambassador, thanks for being with us.


MARTIN: What do you make of this? Do you think the summit's actually going to happen?

HILL: You know, I think it's probably less than 50 percent at this point for a number of reasons. And I think they have to do with the fact that the president has been very clear that he wants to do this completely differently from the past, meaning that he has indicated he won't give any sanctions relief until the North Koreans complete their process of denuclearization. And frankly, that is simply not going to work. And secondly, he does have a tendency to kind of declare a victory long before we've even started the game. And I think the consequence of that is the North Koreans are getting a little worried about it and pulling back.

MARTIN: But this could all just be public to-ing and fro-ing, public negotiating, the administration, perhaps, learning as it goes here.

HILL: No question. And certainly, in any sort of Trump endeavor, there's a lot of that. And I think the North Koreans understand that. But the fundamental issue here is the North Koreans are being expected to come to the talks and essentially give up their nuclear weapons. And I don't think there's been a lot of work to make sure that happens. I don't think there's been an effort to sort of discuss in detail what they're looking for in return, nor has there been an effort to engage in what's pretty much de rigueur diplomacy, which is you show them a draft communique, and you say, this is what we'd like to see, and then they show you their draft, and then you try to work something out. There doesn't seem to be any effort in that direction.

MARTIN: So it's - I hear you saying that the nuts and bolts of diplomacy, the actual work of writing things down on papers, exchanging them, negotiating, that that's not happening. But does that mean that it can't happen eventually?

HILL: No, it doesn't mean that. But, you know, nuts and bolts are important. They are what hold things together. And it's not at all clear that North Koreans are - see what they're getting out of this. And I think they're very worried about it. And meanwhile, the presence of John Bolton, his mention that the U.S. would not be giving economic assistance - which frankly is one of the big points the president has made - that's kind of confused the North Koreans. And they would like to know, sort of where does Mr. Bolton fit into this picture? They see that this is going to be Mike Pompeo's show. But, again, they're going to need a lot more detail before they come to the table.

MARTIN: We had Victor Cha on the show the other day. He advised President George W. Bush on North Korea. And I'm going to play a clip of that conversation for you. Hold on.


VICTOR CHA: I think that, at the core, this is an issue where the question becomes, is North Korea and their nuclear program a problem that can be fundamentally and completely solved, or is it a problem that has to be managed with diplomacy and subtlety so that we don't end up in a situation where we're talking about armed conflict?

MARTIN: So he's saying this is a problem to be managed, not solved. Do you agree that that is the correct way to think about it? And if so, how has it been managed? Because it seems have not been managed that well if we are still in this moment, in this standoff with the North.

HILL: Well, I worked with Victor. He was our deputy in the six-party talks, to the U.S. delegation six-party talks. And I won't put words in his mouth, but I do believe that Victor would agree with me that this North Korean nuclear problem is extremely dangerous. And we should be putting every effort to, quote, "solving it." I think managing it suggests that we end up with a nuclear North Korea. And I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel on that. I think it has dire consequences for the region and, frankly, for relationships around the world. So I would sort of like to keep working on the idea of complete denuclearization, but I don't...

MARTIN: Even though you said it's impossible.

HILL: I did not say it's impossible. I said it's very...

MARTIN: Difficult. It's very difficult.

HILL: I said it's very difficult. And, you know, good, hard diplomacy issues are more than difficult sometimes. So we'll have to see. But I really think we need to keep at this. And I'd like to see more of what you call nuts and bolts.

MARTIN: U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill - he's now with the University of Denver. He joined us on Skype.

Ambassador, thanks as always.

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

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