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U.S. And North Korea Negotiators Hold Last Minute Meetings Ahead Of Summit


The sitting leaders of North Korea and the United States have never met before. And in just a little while, this historic first will take place in Singapore. President Trump says he'll know within the first minute by touch and feel whether something good will come out of the summit with Kim Jong Un. NPR's Elise Hu joins us now from Singapore. Hi, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey there.

SHAPIRO: What are negotiators for the two sides doing as we tick down to the start of this summit?

HU: Well, from what we understand, the working-level negotiations were still happening just, you know, 24 hours ahead of the summit itself. But Kim Jong Un decided to take a little sightseeing tour of the major spots where a lot of tourists go in Singapore with only 10, 11 hours to spare before the summit happening.

So in the evening, his motorcade started moving, and he ended up stopping by a botanical garden called Gardens by the Bay and then taking a selfie there with the foreign minister for Singapore, and then moved on to the Marina Bay Sands, the iconic three-tower hotel in Singapore itself.

So it doesn't seem like Kim Jong Un was, you know, reading briefing books the night before because he was out and about. And Trump himself, the White House called a lid on the president and - just after lunch the day before, so he hasn't been seen out publicly.

SHAPIRO: But do we know who's going to be negotiating for the North Koreans?

HU: The key negotiator for the North Koreans on American issues is a woman named Choe Son Hui. She is the counterpart to Sung Kim in the U.S., who has been negotiating at the working level. Choe is the Vice Foreign Minister for the North Korean Foreign Ministry. She's well-steeped in American politics and history. She started out as an English interpreter and then became the head of the American Affairs Bureau in the ministry.

And most interestingly, Ari, she was the one who made a statement saying that Vice President Mike Pence was a political dummy when Pence seemed to suggest a few weeks ago a Libya-style end to the Kim regime if Kim didn't give in to U.S. demands. And it was shortly after that that Trump briefly withdrew from this summit, which, of course, now is back on.

SHAPIRO: We've heard American officials talk a lot about their desire for a denuclearized North Korea. What do the North Koreans want out of this?

HU: Well, in some ways, the fact that President Trump came here to meet one-on-one, face-to-face with Kim Jong Un is already an achievement by the regime in North Korea. You know, it gives the Kim regime further domestic legitimacy. North Koreans have always wanted a meeting with a U.S. president, just no previous administration was willing to do this kind of meeting unless it came with a substantive commitment or concession on denuclearization.

North Korea also wants security guarantees - a better relationship with the U.S. in order to end what it views as a hostile U.S. policy. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed reporters today. He says that the U.S. is willing to go there when it comes to a security guarantee.


MIKE POMPEO: We're prepared to take what will be security assurances that are different, unique, than America's been willing to provide previously. We think this is both necessary and appropriate.

HU: Now what different and unique really means, we don't know. There were no specifics on this, but that will be a question that the allies will certainly be interested, especially the allies of South Korea and Japan.

SHAPIRO: Will you just briefly look ahead to what comes after this summit? President Trump has said the best-case scenario is not going to resolve all these issues. He's talked about a willingness to invite Kim Jong Un to the White House. The North Koreans have talked about having President Trump to Pyongyang. Where does this go from here?

HU: Well, probably more engagement and diplomacy. Already, the White House is saying that this is the beginning of a long-term process, not a one-shot, you know, we're going to get denuclearization right out of the gate and right away. The outcome, of course, would still be that U.S. goal of complete denuclearization. But whether North Korea is willing to do that is a big, open question right now.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Elise Hu covering this summit for us in Singapore. Thanks, Elise.

HU: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.