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Concerns Ahead Of Trump-Kim Summit

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now, to understand what we might expect from this upcoming meeting, we called Ambassador Wendy Sherman. She coordinated Korea policy during the Clinton administration, and we asked her what she is expecting this meeting to produce.

WENDY SHERMAN: Oh, I think both Kim Jong Un and President Trump like theater, so they will each bring that theater to this meeting in this negotiation.

MARTIN: Ambassador Sherman has some concerns, particularly about President Trump's suggestion that he might end up inviting Kim to the White House.

SHERMAN: I want the president to succeed, but I don't want it to be all about symbolism because Kim Jong Un getting a meeting with the president of United States is a big deal for North Korea. This gives status to North Korea. Here North Korea is with the most powerful nation on earth, United States of America, and if he came to the White House, he would get the same boost as a leader of rank in world affairs. But if he hasn't done anything about his nuclear weapons, then we have given a brutal dictator - because remember, he has gulags and labor camps, assassinated his half-brother, assassinated his uncle, has kept many of his people without any food or medical care to speak of - we're giving a brutal dictator standing that he doesn't deserve.

MARTIN: That was Ambassador Wendy Sherman, who served as a member of the U.S. negotiating team with North Korea. To understand what is at stake in all of these negotiations, we turn now to Admiral James Stavridis. He is the dean of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University. Previously, he served as the supreme allied commander of NATO.

Admiral, thanks so much for speaking with us once again.

JAMES STAVRIDIS: Pleasure to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So before we get into the details, can you lay out, as simply as you can, exactly what is the threat that North Korea poses to the region and what is the threat that North Korea poses to the United States?

STAVRIDIS: North Korea poses a profound threat in the region because they have an enormous army. They have highly capable air forces, excellent navy with diesel submarines, and above all, a cache of probably somewhere between 30 and 50 nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them at ranges that can touch any capital in the region. They are a growing threat to the United States because their ballistic missile program has advanced to the point that it is conceivable that they could, in the immediate future - say the next year or two - be able to deliver a weapon to the continental United States. That's very worrisome on both counts.

MARTIN: President Trump has been advocating for, quote, unquote, "rapid denuclearization." Is that a realistic goal? I mean, let's just say, even as an intellectual exercise, is that possible?

STAVRIDIS: It is not. In any scenario, it will be a matter of years before North Korea is free of nuclear weapons. There are technical reasons for that. It takes time to obtain these weapons defused and then, above all, to ensure that you've got all of them, for North Korea to prove that they have given us the entire inventory. And then secondly, as a matter of political reality, highly unlikely, in my view, that Kim Jong Un will give up his nuclear weapons. He might allow them to be inspected, but he will certainly demand, for a period of years, access to nuclear weapons because he fears if he gives them up, he will meet the same fate as Moammar Gadhafi, Saddam Hussein and others who have given up weapons of mass destruction, so look for this problem to stretch out.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, may I ask you, what's your overall sense of what this meeting means to the world?

STAVRIDIS: I think there's a 70 percent chance we can ultimately negotiate a fairly positive outcome here. I think there is about a 20 percent chance that we'll slip back into the old ways of doing business, which is kind of the history. We've been excited before about potential agreements with North Korea. None have come to fruition. And then my last 10 percent is, kind of, the dark side of the spectrum, which is that this breaks down completely, and in frustration and anger, one side or the other actually commences hostilities - low percentage, but very dark end of the spectrum. So let's focus on that 70 percent potential positives here. I'm cautiously optimistic.

MARTIN: That's Admiral James Stavridis. He previously served as supreme allied commander of NATO. Currently, he's serving as dean of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Admiral, thank you so much for speaking with us.

STAVRIDIS: What a pleasure, Michel. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.