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Koreas Hold Border Talks, U.S., Canada Hold Summit On Nuclear Threat

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

North and South Korea are still talking to each other, which is presumably a good thing when you think about everything that's at stake. So far, though, these talks are not about their nuclear standoff. The two nations are talking about the Olympics with some help of musical diplomacy, which we will explain in a moment. Meanwhile, across the Pacific, the U.S. and Canada are hosting a summit to talk about North Korea's nuclear threat. We are joined now by The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Cheng, who is covering all this.

Hey, Jonathan.

JONATHAN CHENG: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: Let's start with this first meeting that's happening on the Korean Peninsula. We've been reporting the last couple of weeks, the North and South are in talks about how the North can participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics. They apparently sent this music pop star - this North Korean pop star - to these talks, and then, as a result, got this symbolic win that has to do with an orchestra. Explain what happened here.

CHENG: Yeah. Well, certainly, you can imagine the South Korean delegates weren't expecting to see North Korea's perhaps most prominent pop star appear at the inter-Korean summit there on the DMZ. And her job there, basically, was to emphasize a priority of Kim Jong Un - that they want some cultural diplomacy. They know that the spotlight is going to be on the Korean Peninsula in a couple of weeks, and they've got a bad reputation, and they want to improve it. And I think they see music as a way of doing that.

MARTIN: So they got permission to send this orchestra to the South for a performance or two. I want to switch gears and talk about this other important summit meeting happening about the North Korean nuclear threat - this one in Vancouver. The U.S. and Canada are hosting this. Who's going, and who's not?

CHENG: Well, you got a lot of the allies of the West, so all the major countries should be there. The major notable absences, really, are China and Russia. And, of course, they're very important. They're two of North Korea's neighbors, and they're the ones that have Kim Jong Un's back, you could argue. And the fact that they're not there really illustrates that - you know, I think the U.S. and its allies could talk a lot about what they want to do, and I think we're going to hear a lot about sanctions and pressure. But as the president himself has noted, China does have a lot of sway here. They have 90 percent of North Korea's trade, and Russia has a lot of the rest of it. And they certainly have a lot of influence, so...

MARTIN: Which makes you ask, what good are any conversations about leverage that the U.S. and its allies might have if China is not in the conversation? Because it is the one with the power to move North Korea's behavior.

CHENG: Yeah, that's right. You know, even people who are skeptical of Donald Trump have pointed out that he has done a good job - Rex Tillerson, you could give the credit to - for having coordinated a global pressure campaign that has generally borne fruit. You've seen a lot of countries downgrade their relations with North Korea. You've seen them start to feel the pinch. But without China, you can't really close that circle.

MARTIN: Any chance that these talks between North and South Korea at the DMZ that are about the Olympics - any chance that they're going to move to more substantive issues?

CHENG: Yeah, they have another talk on Wednesday. And then there's another one on Saturday in Switzerland with the IOC. And there, they're going to really get down to brass tacks about which athletes are going to be coming or not, and we'll see what happens from there.

MARTIN: But continued conversation about the Olympics - nothing about the nuclear standoff at this point.

CHENG: Not at this point. North Korea's been pretty insistent about that.

MARTIN: They don't want to go there. All right, Jonathan Cheng of The Wall Street Journal, reporting in Seoul this morning. Thanks so much.

CHENG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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