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After North Korea Agrees To Meet, The U.S. Has A Possible Opening For Diplomacy


Here's something else President Trump said today about a possible opening for diplomacy with North Korea.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hopefully we'll go in the very, very peaceful, beautiful path we're prepared to go, whichever path is necessary. I think we're having very good dialogue, and you're going to certainly find out pretty soon what's happening.

SHAPIRO: Let's hear more about these diplomatic possibilities from NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: North and South Korea are now planning their first summit in a decade, and South Korean officials who held a rare meeting with Kim Jong Un say he's ready to talk with the U.S. about denuclearization. Former Pentagon official Frank Aum is among the many North Korea watchers here in Washington who are paying close attention.

FRANK AUM: I would say that I am cautiously optimistic. Or maybe the better way to put it is optimistically cautious because I think we've seen this from North Korea before.

KELEMEN: Aum, who's now with the U.S. Institute of Peace, says it's hard to know whether this latest twist is a result of U.S. pressure and sanctions. It may just be that North Korea has made enough advances to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

AUM: You could argue that they have achieved what they wanted to, and they're now at a point where they can negotiate with the United States and ask for more concessions because they have greater leverage based on their own nuclear weapons program.

KELEMEN: That's certainly the view of Suzanne DiMaggio, who's been involved in unofficial or Track 2 talks with North Korea. She's with a think tank called New America.

SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: They feel a sense of confidence that they have, to use their words, completed their nuclear force. In other words, in their mind, they believe they have achieved the ability, the capacity to deter any U.S. attack.

KELEMEN: So the Trump administration, she says, has to take this offer of talks seriously.

DIMAGGIO: The North Koreans have really played this very well. They've put the United States in a position of being reactive rather than proactive.

KELEMEN: DiMaggio is worried about the U.S. ability to pursue diplomacy after U.S. envoy Joseph Yun announced his retirement recently. She says diplomatically, the U.S. has a thin bench. But Aum of the U.S. Institute of Peace isn't too worried about that. He says the U.S. does need to think, though, about how to pave the way for talks. North Korea wants security guarantees. Aum says the Pentagon could scale back joint military exercises with South Korea or at least stop talking about maneuvers to decapitate the North Korean regime.

AUM: So obviously that's very threatening to the regime. If you're threatening that, you're practicing maneuvers that would take the leadership out, right? But all of that is just sort of messaging. So you could do those sorts of operations and just not mention it. Or if you really want to, you cannot do those sorts of exercises at all. So those are the ways you can lower the tensions and rhetoric on the peninsula.

KELEMEN: South Korean envoys are expected in Washington later this week to brief the Trump administration more fully on their talks in Pyongyang. 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.