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North Korea Expert Reacts to Trump's Cancellation Of Summit

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump has canceled the proposed summit between North Korea and the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was up on Capitol Hill before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when this news came down, and the secretary read aloud the letter that the president sent to the North Korean leader explaining his decision.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE POMPEO: Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is appropriate at this time to have this long-planned meeting - or inappropriate - excuse me. I feel it is inappropriate at this time to have this long-planned meeting.

MARTIN: Again, that was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reading a letter that President Trump has sent to North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, canceling the proposed U.S.-North Korea summit. It was supposed to take place on June 12 in Singapore. To talk more about this decision, we are joined by Joel Wit. He's a former diplomat who's been involved in negotiations with North Korea for years. He's now a senior fellow at the Stimson Center here in D.C.

Joel, thanks for being on the show.

JOEL WIT: Thank you.

MARTIN: Your reaction.

WIT: My immediate reaction is that the administration has mismanaged an important historic opportunity, and I'm not sure if we're going to have this kind of opportunity again.

MARTIN: You thought this was a good idea to move forward with this summit - because there were many who thought otherwise. People with long experience with North Korea said just by granting a summit - putting Kim Jong Un on the same stage with the American president - was a concession that was too big to make.

WIT: Look, there's no doubt that the North Koreans have wanted to have a meeting with the American president for a long time. That's reality. But the fact is, there are a lot of substantive, very dangerous issues here that need to be dealt with, and the summit provided a real opportunity to do that.

MARTIN: So why do you think it failed?

WIT: I think it failed in large part because the administration has no idea how to deal with the North Koreans. It failed because the administration has veered from, you know, praise of Kim Jong Un, to making threats, to talking about the Libya model, which is really something the North Koreans don't want to hear about. It's been entirely too public in this process while we should've been focused on quiet preparations.

MARTIN: You reference the Libya model. This is something that the national security adviser, John Bolton, first broached weeks ago. As recently as just a couple days ago, Vice President Mike Pence on Fox News talked about this. And this is, of course, a reference to the former Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, who agreed to the U.S. terms, gave up his nuclear weapons and was ultimately killed at the hands of his own people, which is clearly not something that Kim Jong Un would want. And the North responded to that very strongly. The North Korean regime said those were ignorant remarks. And so they made it clear that they weren't pleased with how the Trump administration was talking about all of this. Where do we go from here?

WIT: Well, that's, of course, a very important question. And I think the first point here is that by canceling the summit in this manner, the United States is going to find itself very isolated. The Russians, the Chinese and even the South Koreans are going to be upset. So I think the administration feels it's in a position of strength when, in fact, it's in a position of weakness. And so until it realizes that, I think we're in for a tough road ahead.

MARTIN: Does it matter that the North destroyed this test site today?

WIT: Well, it does matter. I think it was an important step forward. But what we should've been doing is building on that step to make sure the site couldn't be ever used again, and now we're not going to have that opportunity.

MARTIN: Joel Wit - he's a North Korea expert and senior fellow at the Stimson Center, talking today about president's decision to cancel the North Korean summit. Thank you so much, Joel.

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

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