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The Potential For Denuclearization After Latest Trump-Kim Meeting


A new South Korean poll asked people there if they think the chances of North Korea giving up its nuclear program are better after President Trump met with Kim Jong Un at the DMZ last Sunday. Around 60% of people said yes. So ordinary people may be optimistic, but analysts are not so convinced. NPR's Michael Sullivan has the story from Seoul.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: On the day President Trump traveled to the DMZ for the historic photo op with Kim, South Korea's President Moon Jae-in sounded almost giddy.


PRESIDENT MOON JAE-IN: (Through interpreter) President Trump is the hero of the peace process of the Korean Peninsula and the peacemaker of the Korean Peninsula.

SULLIVAN: Shin Beom-chul is a senior analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. He thinks it's way too early to call the president a hero.

SHIN BEOM-CHUL: The situation on the Korean Peninsula is almost the same. North Korea still produce nuclear fissile material and nuclear weapon. So the meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un does not change the North Korea's threat.

SULLIVAN: And he says even though talks are scheduled to resume later this month, it's not known what shape they'll take. Konyang University's Kim Tae-Woo.

KIM TAE-WOO: Still, the meeting itself is a progress because it can give a new energy to deadlocked nuclear dialogue since the deadlocked summit in Hanoi. So that's why we are beginning to pin some expectations about what to come in the future.

SULLIVAN: He says there are three possible scenarios. The first is North Korea accepting the U.S.'s original big deal - complete denuclearization in exchange for a lifting of sanctions. The second is that the two sides just muddle along the way they've been doing. Or the third option, he says - the U.S. accepting the piecemeal approach favored by the North. That one scares him the most, especially with reports coming out of Washington this week suggesting a small deal may be under consideration. He's not the only one scared.

SHIN: If United States changes position because of President Trump's political agenda, then we might fail.

SULLIVAN: The Asan Institute's Shin Beom-chul.

SHIN: If the United States compromises with North Korea in the name of a freeze or in the name of a small deal and lift the sanction for North Korea, then it eventually leads to the failure of nuclear negotiation. That's a nightmare scenario for me.

SULLIVAN: The U.S. and North Korea are scheduled to resume negotiations later this month. In a Gallup poll released today, 66% of South Koreans polled said they believed North Korea would never give up their nuclear weapons. Only 24% said they believed it would happen. Lee Na Kyung is a researcher at the Center for North Korea and Unification Studies at Korea University, who defected from the North to the South 13 years ago. She's in the doubters' camp.

LEE NA KYUNG: (Speaking Korean).

SULLIVAN: "The Kim family and the nuclear program are the same," she says. "The family has gotten this far because of the nuclear arsenal. Therefore, denuclearization would mean the eradication of the Kim family," she says. "That's why I believe that under no circumstances will North Korea denuclearize completely and permanently."

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.