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U.S.-North Korea Expert Weighs In On Upcoming Meeting Between Trump And Kim Jong Un


And we turn next to Joel Wit. He is a State Department veteran who has negotiated with the North Koreans in the past. He's now at the Johns Hopkins School for International Studies (ph). Hi there.

JOEL WIT: Hi. How are you?

KELLY: I am all right, quite surprised. And I wonder if you are, too. Did you at all see this coming?

WIT: Honestly, I am very surprised. I had heard rumors that there might be a high-level meeting between the United States and North Korea that might have been between Secretary of State Tillerson and the North Korean foreign minister, but this is very shocking.

KELLY: What do you think changed?

WIT: Well, of course that's very difficult to say.

KELLY: Sure.

WIT: But I think the North Koreans for months now have been shifting their position towards diplomacy, away from developing their weapons. And that's been very clear with South Korea. And so I think a lot of us thought a shoe was going to drop which would involve the United States.

KELLY: Does this suggest to you that the Trump administration's approach - the threats of fire and fury and all the rhetoric - that it worked?

WIT: Well, you know, I know we all would like to think it worked, and it was probably one factor. But I also think the North Koreans may have reached the end of their development programs for nuclear weapons and missiles and may have decided that now is the time to shift gear - gears and to improve their economy. And so that means improving the external security environment so they can build up their economy.

KELLY: Oh, that's interesting. So you're arguing that maybe North Korea is thinking they wouldn't have that much to lose by freezing their nuclear program for a bit.

WIT: You know, the North Koreans think months ahead, and I think they're very different from us. So they probably had a number of game plans in place. And, you know, this was probably part of their game plan, and they'd been thinking about it for a while now. And I've heard things like this in private discussions with the North Koreans but certainly not having a meeting at the level of Kim Jong Un and President Trump.

KELLY: Well, speaking of that, the White House put out a statement today saying that they will meet, these two leaders, at a time and place to be determined. And not to get ahead of ourselves, but that's kind of fascinating to contemplate where these two might meet.

WIT: Well, that's very true. You know, I found it was really clever that the South Koreans and North Koreans decided to meet in Panmunjom, at the Demilitarized Zone because a big hurdle in North-South talks has been, where will they meet? So it'll be interesting to see where President Trump meets Kim Jong Un. But I'd have to say that it's very likely that it will be in North Korea or maybe at the Demilitarized Zone 'cause Kim Jong Un's not going to leave North Korea.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, bottom line - how optimistic are you that this might mark a real turning point, in just a few seconds?

WIT: You know, of course there's a lot of skeptics, and there are a lot of people who are pessimistic, but this is a potential historic turning point away from 50 years - 60 years of hostility with North Korea. And so we really need to take advantage of it.

KELLY: Thanks very much.

WIT: Thank you.

KELLY: That's Joel Wit, once of the State Department, now Johns Hopkins School for International Studies, weighing in there on this news tonight that President Trump has apparently agreed to meet with North Korea's leader by May. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.