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Ambassador Branstad: Trump Position On North Korea Is Clear


North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong Un, made his first trip abroad yesterday, traveling to Beijing for a summit meeting with China's president. This visit comes ahead of a possible meeting in May between the United States and North Korea. China and the United States, meanwhile, are in talks in hopes of preventing a trade war. There is a whole lot to talk about, so we've reached U.S. ambassador to China Terry Branstad, who is on the line with us from Beijing. Mr. Ambassador, welcome.

TERRY BRANSTAD: Thank you, David. I'm glad to be with you.

GREENE: Well, we appreciate the time. So do you like the idea of the leaders in China and North Korea getting together right before a potential meeting between President Trump and the leader of North Korea? There's some image here of, you know, them huddling on the sidelines and potentially setting an agenda for this big meeting for President Trump, is there not?

BRANSTAD: Well, I think the president's position on North Korea is really clear. That is we must maximize the pressure on the North Korean regime, and we've done that through the U.N. resolutions. And China has cooperated with us. And they share our commitment to a clear, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. So I think it's pretty significant that we now have - for the first time in a long time - North Korea wanting to meet with President Trump and also with the South Koreans. And so - and obviously, we want to keep the communications with China open and work with them. They've been a key player in helping enforce the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

GREENE: So you are confident. I know President Trump tweeted that he got a message from the president of China talking about the meeting. You're confident that the United States and China are on the same page here when it comes to North Korea with this meeting happening and the other one possibly coming soon?

BRANSTAD: Well, the - President Trump and President Xi Jinping have had three face-to-face meetings. And they've had at least a dozen telephone conversations. And, in fact, I've also been part of delivering letters back and forth between the two presidents. So I think the chemistry between the two leaders is good, and they share a commitment to see the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

And the provocations that North Korea has provided over the last several years, including the intercontinental ballistic missiles and the nuclear tests, is the biggest threat, I think, to humankind right now. So I think we have seen some interesting developments recently, and probably the most significant one is the fact we're looking at a face-to-face meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un from North Korea. And we all hope that will lead to eventual denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

GREENE: Well, President Trump called very recently for $60 billion worth of tariffs against China. And there's a lot of fear of a trade war. Is this the right time to be provoking a trade war potentially at a moment when, as you've said, you might really need China to work on the North Korean nuclear problem?

BRANSTAD: Well, I think these are two separate issues, and the issue of trade with China has been a problem for a long time. The trade deficit has grown and grown and grown. The United States...

GREENE: But if I may - forgive me for interrupting, Ambassador - but are they separate? I mean, if China is angry over a potential trade war, couldn't that affect how much they're ready to cooperate on North Korea with the United States?

BRANSTAD: No. I think - first of all, China recognizes that what America has done is provided safe, reliable food for their citizens. America has helped them develop new technology and grown their economy. And so they don't want to have a conflict over trade. But we're not satisfied that - and Americans have not been treated fair. We want reciprocal, results-oriented economic relations with all of our partners.

GREENE: Well, let me take you home, if I may, Ambassador. I mean, you are from the state of Iowa. And we heard from a farmer in your state, David Struthers. He's a hog farmer from Collins. He voted for President Trump, but he has been very nervous about a lot of the trade moves that the president has made. He's nervous about talk of a trade war. He thinks there could be a ripple effect. There could be havoc if there are Chinese tariffs on U.S. farm products. Here's what he said.


DAVID STRUTHERS: When farmers are not making money, either raising grains or livestock, they don't go and buy new machinery. And the people that build the machinery, they don't go out and buy a new car. They don't go buy new furniture for their home. And so the whole economy suffers because people are not making a good living.

GREENE: It sounds like you're determined that a tough stance against China is very important right now. What do you tell David Struthers, if anything, to make him feel better?

BRANSTAD: Well, first of all, I was governor of Iowa during the farm crisis of the '80s, and I know exactly the challenge that farmers face. And we worked very hard to diversify the economy. And one of the things is I built a relationship with China, and we sell them a lot of soybeans, a lot of pork. And we've just recently gotten this market reopened for beef...

GREENE: But aren't they threatening to do that? Aren't they threatening to put tariffs on American soybeans, and couldn't that hurt farmers? And isn't that a response to something that President Trump has done here?

BRANSTAD: Well, I think what we need to do is avoid threats and instead focus on the problems, and that is the barriers that have not provided for a level playing field. American automobiles have a 25 percent tariff here, and they can sell automobiles in America at only a 2.5 percent tariff. So we need reciprocity. We need fairness.

GREENE: It sounds like this is an important message to send China, you hope it works in the long run. But David Struthers in Collins, Iowa, might have to suffer in the short term.

BRANSTAD: Well, my hope is that, first of all, there is a comment period on this 301 provision and that China will, instead of threatening to do things that are not in their interest or wouldn't benefit them and certainly won't benefit the rest of the world, that we can find a way to work our way through these challenges. But the fact is they've been talked about for decades, and nothing has been done. And that's the reason why I think it's critically important that we bring it to a head and we try to get some significant reforms and changes in their system so they have a more open system that gives us an opportunity to compete fairly.

GREENE: Terry Branstad is the United States ambassador to China on the line from Beijing. Ambassador, thanks a lot.

BRANSTAD: Well, it's been great to visit with you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.