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North Korea's Kim Set To Host South Korea's Moon


An update now on diplomatic efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will host South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang on Tuesday to preview the summit and how it figures into the bigger picture around North Korea's nuclear weapons. We're joined now by NPR's Rob Schmitz in Seoul.

Rob, thanks so much for joining us.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So before we jump into Tuesday's meeting, could you just remind us where things stand with nuclear diplomacy now? I mean, the White House said last week that President Trump had received what they called a warm, positive letter from Kim asking for another summit.

SCHMITZ: Right. And, you know, this goes back - this has been an eventful year, obviously. You know, President Trump and Kim Jong Un met in Singapore in June, as many of our listeners will remember, when they appeared to agree on a path towards a nuclear-free North Korea. Then, in July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang and had what he called productive talks.

But then, in August, the U.N. released a report that showed North Korea was not taking meaningful steps towards scrapping its nuclear weapons program, and that, in fact, it was continuing to develop the program. And that led to President Trump canceling what would have been Mike Pompeo's second trip to Pyongyang. And, since then, Kim Jong Un, as you mentioned, tried to make amends and reportedly vowed to his South Korean counterpart - said he'd get rid of his nuclear weapons program before the end of President Trump's first term in office.

MARTIN: So the president canceled the secretary of state's second trip, but the South Korean President Moon is continuing with his meetings. Does South Korea's position line up with that of the United States or not?

SCHMITZ: Well, one of Moon's priorities here is, of course, to try and put the denuclearization of North Korea back on track, and that does line up with what the U.S. wants. Up until now, Washington has demanded that the North dismantle its nuclear weapons program as a condition for lifting economic sanctions on Pyongyang. But the difference about how Moon Jae-in is handling this is that he seems to be advocating a more incremental path forward in which the North takes a step towards denuclearization and then is rewarded with a partial lifting of sanctions.

But, Michel, it's really unclear whether the Trump administration's willing to move forward at this gradual pace. You know, it's uncertain whether North Korea is serious about getting rid of its nuclear weapons program.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask about another issue that's come up in the months of negotiations, which is calling a formal end to the Korean War. Do you think that Kim and Moon will talk about this on Tuesday?

SCHMITZ: Both Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in are interested in moving forward on making this formal declaration that the decades-old Korean War is finally over. Washington is wary about this because formally ending the Korean War could eventually necessitate a drawdown of U.S. troops in South Korea, and Washington doesn't want to do that until it's crystal clear that the North has gotten rid of its nuclear program.

MARTIN: So is it possible that we could see some kind of North-South agreement that leaves the U.S. on the sidelines?

SCHMITZ: It's possible. But I think a lot of the folks that I'm talking to here in South Korea think that whatever is agreed upon in Pyongyang this week will probably have to pass through Washington before everything is on the dotted line.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Rob Schmitz in Seoul.

Rob, thank you so much.

SCHMITZ: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.