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Where Relations Stand Between The U.S., South Korea And North Korea


Let's dig in a little deeper to where relations with North Korea stand in light of today's meeting between President Trump and South Korean President Moon. Jean Lee is back in the studio with us. She's an expert on North Korea at the Wilson Center. Good to have you here.

JEAN LEE: Hello.

SHAPIRO: So tremendous potential, President Trump says - what's your take on his remarks and President Moon's remarks?

LEE: There's some signaling going on here. Really, President Moon was here for 24 hours. He did a - he made a lightning-quick trip here to Washington, D.C., to see what he could do to salvage these negotiations. But what's - you know, regardless of the tough discussions that he and President Trump most likely had about how to define denuclearization, where to ease up on sanctions - if they ease up at all - though, if you take a step back, this is a great signal to Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Un certainly was perplexed by what happened in Hanoi. And I imagine he was somewhat anxious about where things stood. So this is a way for those two leaders, A, to show that they're coordinated - President Trump and President Moon - and, also, that there's some room for - to get back to that diplomacy.

SHAPIRO: You're referring to what happened in Hanoi. Those talks between President Trump and Kim Jong Un fell apart, ended prematurely. And since then, we've heard about satellite images showing North Korea reconstructing a satellite launching station. How would you describe what's happened in the U.S.-North Korea relationship since that disastrous meeting in February?

LEE: Absolutely. And that's certainly what should concern us all - that if Kim Jong Un becomes impatient or frustrated by the pace of the diplomacy that he may revert back to a pattern of behavior that has worked well for the North Koreans, and that is bad behavior. And since certainly what we don't want is for North Korea to think - hey, if we have fallen off of President Trump's radar, let's test something to get back on his radar.

So what's good about this meeting today is that it does tell Kim Jong Un - hey, it's still a priority, and we're going to try to get back to diplomacy. It's going to be tough, but we're still in it.

SHAPIRO: How would you characterize the last couple of months in the relationship between South Korea and North Korea? I know this - the North pulled out of a liaison office with South Korea that was supposed to improve communication between these two countries. Where do things stand?

LEE: It's been tough for the South Koreans. Or I should say for the South Korean president because he's gotten the cold shoulder from Kim Jong Un. And you know, that's very typical. It's something that I think President Moon knows not to react to too abruptly because this is how the relationship with North Korea goes. It ebbs, and it flows.

I think, in some sense, Kim Jong Un is punishing President Moon for perhaps not bending President Trump's ear enough on easing up on sanctions. So they like to play that kind of a game. They do want to put pressure wherever they can. So I think that this summit was important in telling Kim Jong Un - hey, you can't divide us; we are going to work together on this.

SHAPIRO: And do you see the U.S. and South Korea as speaking in one voice on the issue of North Korea, or do you think there is any daylight between them?

LEE: They've got, perhaps, different timelines on how this is all going to happen. But I do think that, regardless of what their differences are behind closed doors, they absolutely need to stand together if they want this to have the outcome that we're all envisioning.

SHAPIRO: Different timelines meaning South Korea may be a little more patient and President Trump might want a quicker victory here.

LEE: Well, I think they have different ideas. Remember that South Koreans are the ones who are in the path of any destruction that could be wrought by a test or any provocation. And so they're looking at the long game. They want peace on the Korean Peninsula, and they may have a different calculation for how they're going to get there.

And as we heard earlier, there's certainly some suggestion that President Moon may pressure President Trump to allow some of these inter-Korean economic projects, and that could weaken maximum pressure. So they may have different ideas about how to get it - get to this point where they have...

SHAPIRO: How to balance out the carrots and the sticks.

LEE: Exactly.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Jean Lee, North Korea expert with the Wilson Center, thanks for coming into the studio today.

LEE: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRAZYJAZZ'S "SHINE STAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.