CSIS Press Conference Call: Previewing Secretary Pompeo’s Trip to North Korea
October 5, 2018
COLM QUINN: Thanks, everyone, for joining the call today. I know you guys are always busy, so we really appreciate you taking the time.
I’m Colm Quinn. I’m in our External Relations Department here at CSIS.
Just a couple housekeeping things. We will be sending out a transcript of this call following it, so do watch out for your inboxes for that. The order we’re going to go in today, we’re going to start with Victor Cha, senior adviser and the Korea chair at CSIS. We’ll then move on to Sue Mi Terry, who is senior fellow in the Office of the Korea Chair. And then to discuss the China angles of the Pompeo trip is Bonnie Glaser, who is a senior adviser for Asia here and the director of the China Power Project. We will, of course, have plenty of time for – plenty of time for questions, and our operator will walk you through that when Bonnie has concluded her remarks.
And so, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Victor to give us a preview. Thank you.
VICTOR CHA: Thanks, Colm.
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us. We thought it would be useful to do this call prior to the secretary leaving this weekend for the trip to Japan, North Korea, South Korea and China. As all of you know, this trip is wedged in very neatly, at least on the Korean side, between the third inter-Korean summit that took place last month and a possible second summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. And of course, this comes – this trip is coming on the heels of the speech given by Vice President Pence and a number of events regarding what looks like a real turn in U.S.-China relations.
The first part of the trip will be a stop in Tokyo, where the secretary will overnight with Prime Minister Abe and Foreign Minister Kono. Then he will go directly to Pyongyang, North Korea, where he will – at least according to the State Department’s announcement – be meeting with Kim Jong-un – Chairman Kim Jong-un. So I think everybody expects that there’ll be a meeting, although there wasn’t one the last time. He will not stay overnight in Pyongyang, at least according to the schedule, and move directly to Seoul, where he’ll see President Moon and Foreign Minister Kang. And then will go from there to Beijing, where he will meet his Chinese counterparts to discuss a whole host of issues.
The focus of the trip is really North Korea. But at the same time, given all that’s happened in the U.S.-China relationship over the last few weeks, clearly I think Beijing will be a very important part – a very important part of the trip that won’t be just about North Korea, but will be about the overall direction of U.S.-China relations.
So with that, Colm, I’ll turn it back to you, and let Sue give us a little bit more on the North Korea situation.
SUE MI TERRY: Hi. Hi, everybody. I think North Korea is right now singularly focused on the summit – the second Trump-Kim summit. They want it very soon, so it will likely take place by the end of this year. I think before midterm election, I think something is what South Koreans talked about, but I think it’s unlikely given that they’re running out of time. I think both North Koreans and the South Koreans sense a real opportunity here, because they figured out that I think they think that they can get a best possible deal by directly dealing with President Trump himself. Remember after the Singapore Declaration he agreed to suspend the war games.
So what I’m concerned about is when before he appeared in North Korea was OK about a declaration for declaration deal potentially, what we are now seeing is a pushback on this. And I’m concerned that North Korea is now playing hardball. And this is why you are – we are hearing reports that they have been also giving a cold shoulder to Special Envoy Steve Biegun, because why deal with, you know, Biegun and others when Kim can directly meet with President Trump and try to get a deal?
And I think North Koreans also know that the U.S. is feeling pressure from all sides now – from both Koreas, China, Russia – for or against one dynamic, to accept a declaration ending the Korean War and lift some sanctions. You’ve all heard North Korea’s Foreign Minister, Ri Yong-ho, making it quite clear, I think it was last Saturday in Europe, that there is no way that the North will denuclearize without getting trust-building concessions from the U.S. And what does that mean? That means, again, minimum, an end of war declaration.
You know, I think it’s part of the issue is that while North Korea and South Korea have a clear strategy, honestly I’m not sure if we have a coordinated strategy coming out of Washington. We have some – you know, Secretary Pompeo, for example, recently announcing a timeline, saying 2021 for denuclearization. Then President Trump just last week talked about how we do not need to play the time game and there’s no rush to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program. So, again, we have sort of mixed messages coming out of Washington. So I think that’s sort of undermining our own process.
And you know, so unfortunately, in terms of Secretary Pompeo’s trip – upcoming trip, I’m not sure if we’re going to get a whole lot of progress there other than sort of the details of the next Trump-Kim summit. I think North Koreans will try to save the actual negotiations for when Kim meets with Trump. And we can sort of talk about the recent South Korean proposal maybe during Q&A of – they just recently came out with a proposal to not push for declaration for declaration – that is, peace declaration for declaration of their nuclear program inventory.
But they’ve been talking – South Korea’s been pushing this declaration – peace declaration in return for dismantling the Yongbyon nuclear facility. I understand South Korea’s position on this. But since – but I think what’s important to know is the reason why South Koreans are now pushing for peace declaration – for this declaration is because they know North Koreans will not give us a complete list. They will not denuclearize. So what South Koreans are saying, that we need to find other avenues. And I would say that this is fine if the U.S. position is that we should not – we should just get into sort of threat-reduction mode and not focus on, you know, CVID or “final, fully,” or what is it, FIFID (ph) or whatnot. But we can talk about that during the Q&A session.
Why don’t I now just turn it over to Bonnie for a quick comment on China, and then we can talk about the rest?
MR. QUINN: Thanks, Sue.
Bonnie, go ahead.
BONNIE GLASER: OK, great. Thank you all for calling in. Just a couple of things on China’s position.
On the Korea process, the Chinese favor an end of the war – (audio break) – believe that the United States is not showing enough goodwill to reciprocate for North Korea’s goodwill. There are some signs that the Chinese are beginning to worry that they could be excluded from negotiations, if those go forward, on an end-of-war declaration. The Chinese – (audio break) – in a stable process that brings peace and creates conditions for North Korea’s denuclearization, jumpstarts North Korea’s economic development, and protects, of course, Chinese interests, while in the longer run drives a wedge in the U.S.-ROK alliance and ultimately leads to reduction and even withdrawal of U.S. forces deployed in South Korea.
On the U.S.-China relationship, the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue that had been scheduled was postponed. The U.S. says that China postponed it and the Chinese say that the – that Washington postponed it. But the process, in any case – that would have been a 2+2. Secretary Mattis and Pompeo would have been in Beijing. So, instead, Pompeo is going separately. He will likely meet with a range of officials, including China’s president, Xi Jinping.
It’s not clear to me what the priorities are of this visit, because after the speech yesterday Vice President Pence has very comprehensively stated a very large number of problems in the relationship. He talked about the trade problems, the South China Sea, Taiwan, election interference by China. It’s a broad number of issues. This is, of course, the highest-level speech and the most comprehensive speech that has been given by the Trump administration, and I think that the Chinese are still reeling from it.
Last week, Senior Director at the NSC Matt Pottinger was at the Chinese embassy and gave remarks where he talked about the need for the U.S. to be more competitive, and I think that is what the United States is hoping to do. But the Chinese at this point, I think, are concluding that the Trump administration doesn’t really want to solve problems in specific areas such as trade, but rather wants to thwart China’s rise and contain China. This is, of course, an ongoing narrative in China, but this debate has been going on for some time. But I think that view is close to prevailing.
So I think that it’s uncertain what will come out of this visit, whether there will be a path forward toward negotiations on trade or any other issues. My own guess is that the U.S.-China relationship will pretty much be on hold until after the midterm elections. The Chinese have some hope that some of what is going on is being motivated by political concerns and that there might be more of a chance for some reasonable, constructive dialogue with the United States after the midterms.
And ready to open up.
MR. QUINN: All right. Well, thank you, Bonnie, for that.
I think that means we can open for questions So I’m going to hand over to our AT&T operator, who can talk you through that process.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
The first question will come from Matthew Pennington. Please go ahead.
Q: Hi, good morning. Thanks for doing the call.
I wanted to ask do you think it’s viable for President Trump to agree to a second summit without first getting assurance that there be some progress on denuclearization?
MR. CHA: Hi, Matt, this is Victor.
So I think the answer to that question is, no, it’s not advisable, but then again, it’s President Trump, so you never know what he’ll agree to. You know, I think that right now what’s so important about this trip is I think they cannot come out of these trips any more with broad statements of principles; there needs to be some actual, tangible movement on the nuclear issue.
As you know well, the North Koreans have done a number of things with regard to the test sites – the nuclear test sites, the Sohae satellite launch facility, and these are – you know, these are important confidence-building measures, but none of the – all of the – all of the things that have been done, none of these have addressed the core task on denuclearization which is declaration, verification, and timeline. And so, you know, the question really will be are we going to start getting at the core, nipping at the core of the U.S. ask for a peace treaty, the so-called declaration for declaration.
Now, if you listen to the North Korean statements over the past week, through KCNA they’ve made pretty clear that they don’t see a peace declaration – or denuclearization as a bargaining chip for peace declaration. I think they’ve actually – they actually used those words. However, if you listen to the South Koreans, and in particularly South Korean Foreign Minister Kang in her interview with the Post, you know, she has made pretty clear that they think the North Koreans are going to offer up Yongbyon again – the Yongbyon nuclear facility and dismantlement of Yongbyon as – you know, I don’t think the North Koreans would call it a quid pro quo because, again, they see this as on different tracks, but as a step forward in terms of allowing for a second summit meeting between Trump and Kim.
Q: So do you think that would be sort of – I mean, basically the administration needs something like that to make a second summit fly?
MR. CHA: Yeah. Yeah, I think they need something tangible, and of course on the face of it, when Foreign Minister Kang puts down this marker about Yongbyon, you know, it’s not clear what that means. Does that mean reselling the same program that they resold, you know, in 1994, and then in 2005, 2007? Or does it mean something more than that, you know, including, you know, the centrifuge facility and the entire Yongbyon complex which is, you know, hundreds of buildings. It’s not just that one 5-megawatt reactor.
I mean, you know, I think this is what will be important about this trip. We’ll see what the scope – if Foreign Minister Kang is telegraphing what the North Koreans are going to say to Pompeo, and if it is indeed much broader than simply, you know, we’ll – I don’t know – collapse the cooling – they already collapsed the cooling tower – but we’ll dismantle some aspect of the 5-megwatt reactor, you know, I don’t think that’s going to be very satisfactory to most people who watch this closely. Whether it will be satisfactory to the president, I don’t know, but I don’t think that would be satisfactory to most.
But if they were really to put on offer something much broader than that with regard to Yongbyon, you know, I think the president could justifiably say that, all right, that’s an important first step. You know, it’s not declaration, verification and timeline, but it’s an important first step. And most importantly, politically he can say it has gone beyond anything that past presidents have got. So, you know, that I think in many ways is the bar.
MS. TERRY: I think – this is Sue. I think there is a division here. I mean, we don’t have a coherent policy. I think Victor is absolutely right. This is what his administration officials will demand – Bolton, Mattis, Pompeo. Everybody’s onboard with that.
But I think President Trump wants the second meeting. And I think he can almost spin anything coming out of North Korea to make the second summit happen anyway. He already gave very premature and exuberant praise to some of the symbolic steps that Kim reportedly agreed to in his third meeting with Moon – President Moon, you know, including dismantling Tongchang-ri missile engine site and all of this. You saw President Trump tweeting, you know, that all of these steps were very exciting. So I think sort of, you know, where President Trump stands and everybody else stands is a little bit different. And I think whatever comes out of Pyongyang, I think President Trump can easily turn it into a reasonable justification to have a second meeting, because he wants it.
Q: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is from John Hudson from The Washington Post. Please go ahead.
Q: Hey, guys. Thanks for doing this.
I’m curious who do you guys think is going to be sitting across the table from Biegun when he gets to North Korea, and what you guys are going to be looking for in some of the diplomatic photos that come out? Just, like, things to look out for. And, but you know, also for the personalities, you know, obviously Pompeo’s meeting happened with Ri Yong-ho at the U.N. Is that simply just a fact because that he was leading – Ri Yong-ho was leading the delegation? And then there seem to – you know, when I talked to Foreign Minister Kang, she always said facilities when she was talking about Yongbyon. But I’ve noticed there’s some North Korean government references just to facility, singular. So is that significant? Any thoughts on those would be – would be great.
MR. CHA: Sure. Thanks, John. And, by the way, that was a great interview – a great interview in the post.
Q: Oh, thanks.
MR. CHA: Yeah. Yeah, it was terrific. And so on the first point, things to look for, so obviously the first and the most important thing to look for is if he’s going to have a meeting with Kim Jong-un, right, because they actually put it in the – Heather Nauert actually said it in the State Department readout of the itinerary of the trip. So if they don’t meet him, that would be a huge embarrassment, because I think they would not – they would not say that unless – and they would not write that unless they were absolutely sure they were going to meet with him. And perhaps he’s carrying a letter from President Trump, and that’s the way they can ensure that there’s – that there’s a meeting.
You know, the whole counterpart thing, you know, my sense is there was a lot of enthusiasm when it was Kim Yong-chol at the beginning because, you know, he’s the big spy chief and we’ve never interacted with someone like that at that level before. But I think that my sense is that in actual negotiations he’s not very helpful, in the sense that negotiators are – they have their instructions, but they’re also trying to find common ground. They’re trying to find some gray area where they can move to, and then go back to capitals to see if that gray area is acceptable to each side.
You know, Ri Yong-ho speaks fluent English. I mean, he speaks English better than all of us on this phone. And former ambassador to London. Familiar with the issue, because he was also the head delegate for the negotiations in the six-party era. So he’s got a lot of experience on this issue. And of course, then there are nuances that they can convey to each other – Pompeo and Ri – that I just think would get lost in translation between Kim Yong-chol and Pompeo. So, you know, that’s an internal thing on the North Korean side. Even if neither – I don’t think either of them would have any more flexibility than the other, but at least Ri Yong-ho can pretend that he has more flexibility. Because he’d be better at – he’s just be better at doing that. And the rapport, I think, would be a lot better.
No, the main – you know, so there’s that. Who will be Steve Biegun’s counterpart is still unknown. I mean, I think right now my guess – I don’t know, Sue – my guess, it would be Choi Sun-hee –
MS. TERRY: Yeah.
MR. CHA: – who looks to be sort of the main – the top working-level person on the level, although clearly they haven’t – they haven’t named a counterpart. And then, you know, he’s not staying overnight. So if he does end up staying overnight, that would obviously be a sign that there’s – they see an opportunity for more progress. But I notice that they were very clear about how they would fly directly from Japan, you know, in the morning, and be there for the day, and then go to Seoul that evening. So there is no plan to stay overnight. So if they did do – if they did change plans and stay overnight, that would be – that would be another sign.
So I don’t – I don’t know if you have anything else –
MS. TERRY: No, I 100 percent agree. You were very comprehensive.
I do think – I’ve been asking about who Biegun’s counterpart is, and almost – at least all the South Koreans are telling me that it’s likely Choi Sun-hee, but – because we can’t really think of anybody else. But, yeah, so that would be my guess.
Q: Yeah, OK. Thank you. That was really helpful.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
Our next question is from Tracy Wilkinson from Los Angeles Times. Please go ahead.
Q: Hi. Thank you for doing this.
Sue, you were talking about North Korea’s eagerness to deal only with Trump, Kim-Trump. Is that because – I mean, what’s their strategy –
MS. TERRY: I’m sorry; I missed the front part. Can you – can you restate that?
Q: Yes. Can you hear me now OK?
MS. TERRY: Yeah.
Q: Yeah, OK. Sue, you were talking about North Korea’s eagerness to deal only with Trump, and I’m wondering about the strategy behind that. Is that because they feel like they can get more from him? Or is it because they feel like anything he says doesn’t really mean anything, and then it becomes a way to just sort of drag out the whole process into one big delay? So I just wondered what you thought the strategy was. Thank you.
MS. TERRY: Yeah. I do think they have a clear strategy. We know what they eventually want, which is – or I think I do. My own assessment of their strategy is eventually get an international acceptance of nuclear power, North Korea’s status; break the diplomatic isolation; achieve relaxation of sanctions; all of the stuff that you’ve been hearing about – enhancing international legitimacy, all of that. And I do think they think that – and you know, it’s not only my assessment. South Koreans have also privately told me that this is what they think Kim Jong-un is thinking, that he can get most out of Trump or the best out of Trump, because what they really want, I truly believe, is – you know, more than anything else right now at this point – is this end-of-war declaration, which would then lead to a peace treaty down the road.
And best way and the soonest way to get there is by directly dealing with Trump. I mean, in the Singapore summit, we saw they got out of that suspension of joint exercises. And President Trump, you know, even talked about it in terms of using North Korea’s own rhetoric, calling them “wargames,” expensive – how expensive they are. So I think that’s the strategy.
And the dragging out part, I’ve always thought that that is part of it. And I think, in that regard, they’re also watching what’s happening with – domestically in the United States. I think they’ve very, very interested in this midterm election, the result of it. North Koreans have been always closely watching everything that happens out of Washington. You know, I think, you know, they truly believe they can get – this is a once-in-lifetime opportunity that they have with President Trump.
I think that with the November elections thing, they are worried, actually, ironically, about the possibility of Democrats taking back the House or even possibly the Senate. This is weirdly ironic. Not because they’re worried about sanctions, necessarily – because I think both Republicans and Democrats support sanctions at this point, or peace treaty is also a hard sell to both parties – but I think they’re actually worried about the impeachment process could take over. I mean, I know it’s remarkable that I’m even saying this, but what a difference a year makes – (laughs) – because after last year this is the same president that, you know, potentially talked about destroying North Korea. But I do think they see an opportunity here with – because of the uniqueness of the president, you know.
Q: Great. Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is from Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg News. Please go ahead.
Q: Hi. Thanks very much.
I got on a bit late, but I just wanted to sort of put a more direct point on the issue of sanctions. Do you believe that Secretary Pompeo, given what we’ve seen from the South Koreans, obviously the Russians, the Chinese, basically everybody is going to have to, at some point, give sanctions relief? It seems like just the growing consensus is that he’s going to have to back off of this position which he and President Trump stated that there will be no sanctions relief without denuclearization. Is he going to have to cave on that?
And then, secondly, you know, all this talk about splitting Pompeo from Trump and dealing with Trump directly, and whenever you see Pompeo going to North Korea the North Koreans come out with a very stern statement calling his demands gangster-like and things like that, do you see those statements as genuine, or just a certain negotiating tactic and they’re actually fine dealing with him? Thanks.
MR. CHA: So this is Victor. Let me – on the sanctions part – let me do the sanctions part. And then I’d like to ask Bonnie if she could speak with regard to China on the sanctions part, and then, Sue, maybe you can take the second question on interaction with Pompeo.
So on the sanctions aspect, you know, I think – I mean, right now I feel like we have a situation where, after the inter-Korean summit, the South Koreans, you know, put out a list of all the things that they want to do with North Korea; you know, everything from liaison offices, which they went ahead and opened, and inter-Korean railway, you know, reopening Kaesong, Kumgang Mountain, you know, all these projects.
But the thing is, none of these can move forward unless there’s some sort of sanctions lifting. So, I mean, if you look at it from both the North Koreans’ and the South Koreans’ perspective, they’re looking for the most direct, prompt way to get some relief of sanctions. And I don’t think, you know, the North Koreans – as Sue said, I don’t think they’re going to give the declaration, the verification, the timeline, and – you know, they’re not going to do that. So they’ve got to find something short of that that they can then use to press the United States to start lifting sanctions. And I think that’s why, you know, this all starts moving in the direction of trying to resell Yongbyon again.
John said earlier – he made an important point that Foreign Minister Kang talks about facilities, but the North Koreans talk about facility, singular. So what the scope of Yongbyon, that’ll be on the table, is going to be a very important thing to discern, based on what Pompeo says coming out of these meetings. But – and I would imagine not only are the two Koreas in favor of sanctions lifting; I would imagine the Chinese and the Russians are at this point as well.
So there is – I think there will be increasing pressure on us to do this. But, you know – but the bar for what will be acceptable in terms of any degree of sanctions lifting, I think, will be the scope of what is included in any discussion of Yongbyon.
And maybe, Bonnie, you want to talk a little bit about what China’s views on this these days, especially given where the U.S.-China relationship is?
MS. GLASER: Well, I think that the Chinese have been calling for several months for the easing of sanctions, and they have been quietly talking to the Russians. There was some evidence last month at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in the statements, the public statements that were made by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – separately, of course – that they are now beginning to push for easing of sanctions.
So this is something that – it is possible that China and Russia could actually try to bring up at the U.N. Security Council. They could try to make a case for the fact that North Korea has not conducted testing of missiles or conducted nuclear tests, and therefore at least those sanctions that were imposed for that behavior should be reconsidered and lifted.
So I think that this is something that China would like to see and they will begin to push for. They might discuss this with Secretary Pompeo. I think that the Chinese are eager to use their cooperation on North Korea to try and get something else with the U.S. They recognize President Trump’s transactional nature and would like to capitalize on that. So there is the possibility that the Chinese try to portray themselves as willing to work with the U.S. and maintain maximum support for – maximum pressure, excuse me – you know, for some time if they can get something for it.
So at the end of the day, China’s interests on the Korean Peninsula – of course, they want stability there and they don’t want U.S. presence. But what they really want is to use this issue in order to strengthen their relations with the United States, which I think the Chinese are very concerned about.
MS. TERRY: Regarding Pompeo-president dynamic, I do think it’s both. It’s both negotiating tactic, and they also think they can get more out of President Trump. It’s negotiating tactic in the sense that if they play a more hard line with Pompeo now but they’re actually willing to give a little bit more in the second Kim-Trump summit, then you have a deliverable to Trump, because they know that they have to give something to Trump. So I think in that way it’s a negotiating tactic.
But, that said, I do think they see, again, as I said before, being able to get most out of Trump. They understand that all the administration senior officials – including Bolton, Mattis, and Pompeo himself – I think, you know, were pushing, at least internally, that if the U.S. were to concede to a peace declaration, that we need to get at minimum a complete declaration of their nuclear weapons missile program, a moratorium in their continued production of nuclear warheads, ballistic missile, fissile material – all of this. That no matter what, these officials are more hardline, in a way, than President Trump.
Again, they can point to things that Trump has said and done to, in a way, undermine his own advisors at every turn. So, again, when Pompeo said, you know, there’s a timeline of 2021. And President Trump said, no, no, no. There’s no timeline. Again, giving this exuberant praise to some of the steps that the North Koreans have already taken. So I think they’ve figured out – you know, they think they know how to work Trump. I mean, it’s not only North Korea. It’s South Korea too. They think flattery and praise, you know, gets things. And if you saw President Moon’s over the top flattery of President Trump when he was here, I mean, it was pretty amazing. But I think this – Kim Jong-un is aware of this, as I do think they – by getting to Trump, if there is a second meeting, they are pretty sure that they can get more out of Trump than just dealing with administration officials, including Pompeo – Secretary Pompeo.
MR. CHA: Yeah. This is Victor. I think that’s right. The only thing I would – the only thing I would add is that I think that when the – when the North Koreans react, you know, they put out some statement about gangster-like demands from the United States after Pompeo comes and goes. To me, that’s actually reassuring. (Laughs.) That’s reassuring, that – you know, that Secretary Pompeo is – you know, is sticking to what the U.S. goals are and continuing to press – continuing to press those points. I would be more worried if after he leaves they go, oh – the North Koreans would say: Oh, this is a wonderful trip. Secretary Pompeo is so easy to work – that would actually be more worrying to me. So it – to me, it’s always a good sign that they’re trying to slap him as he leaves, because they want – they want to get in a last shot to show that our demands are still inflexible, and we haven’t given up on – we haven’t given up on trying to get what we want.
Q: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And our next question is from Robbie Ramer from Foreign Policy. Please go ahead.
Q: Hi. Can you hear me?
MR. CHA: Yes.
Q: Thanks so much for doing this call. Two quick questions.
First, is it unusual for the North Koreans to have such an interest in domestic political affairs, like the midterms? And, I mean, have then given any public indication that they’re closely following the midterms?
And then, second, you know, when President Trump makes comments like I fell in love with Kim, beyond some shock, can comments like that have any practical policy implications, either good or bad? Thanks.
MR. CHA: Sue, why don’t you go ahead?
MS. TERRY: Yeah. So, on the midterms, I talked to somebody who was actually asking me this question because he was hearing a lot from up in New York about North Korean officials talking about midterms. And in general, I do think North Koreans follow what happens very closely. I mean, I don’t want to sell Victor out here, but Victor knows what we’re talking about. I mean, the North Koreans were even asking – you know, were following Victor’s own, you know, path last year of what was going to happen to him. So I think North Koreans – there’s a clear pattern of North Koreans following issues – domestic issues very closely. But I think right now, because they see this really as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, they are extra – you know, have interest in following what’s going on, particularly more so now than before.
The fell in love thing, I have – I just – because it’s – I don’t even know how to – what to say about that, just because we certainly have never seen anything like that. If I had to make a guess, again, I just think it falls back into them seeing this as an opportunity, that this – you know, we had – you know, we had President Clinton, to Bush, to Obama, they’ve – this is highly unusual. So I can only say that they continue to see this as an opportunity. I don’t know if Victor – (laughs) – I can’t even make sense of that comment. I was floored by it. So, you know, just last year we’re talking about human rights and, you know, Otto Warmbier’s family, and the defectors, and all of this, and now President Trump has fallen in love with this man? I mean, I – (laughs) – I don’t even know what to say about that.
Victor, you have any comment on that?
MR. CHA: I mean, I think – I mean, there is – I mean – (laughs) – so I think, you know, I mean, leaders have had affection for one another in the past. I mean, I think, like, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan, I mean, they had real affection for each other. I mean, they really did like each other. I mean, I don’t – I don’t know why. I mean, I saw them interact. There was just something that they really got along well. But I would not call – (laughs) – what President Trump has for Kim Jong-un as a – I wouldn’t call it affection. I would – it’s like – it’s sort of saying I love you, but then also having a knife behind your back just in case things go wrong.
But I do think it does reinforce what Sue was talking about earlier, which is it does incentivize the North Koreans to try not to try to work at the very – and the South Koreans, for that matter – to try to work at the very highest levels when they don’t like what Pompeo is saying, which is – you know, which is essentially what the machinery of the U.S. government pumps out that is, you know, very mainstream, very much in line with, I think, sort of a Boltonesque-Mattis-Pompeo type view. But meanwhile, Trump is falling in love because of letters between the two of them. You know, that naturally gives them an incentive, when they don’t hear what they like at the Pompeo level, to try to work directly with Trump.
And then I – you know, the other thing – and again, I would ask Bonnie – bring Bonnie in. I mean, there is – the president used to talk about having this really nice and good and affectionate relationship with Xi Jinping. I just don’t know where that is right now and how that impacts Trump’s ability to get China to work with us on North Korea.
MS. TERRY: That’s because Xi is now writing a beautiful love letter to President Trump.
MR. CHA: Yeah, maybe. (Laughs.)
MS. GLASER: Well, we don’t know about the letters – (laughter) – that are going back and forth between Xi Jinping and President Trump, but it is interesting that President Trump had tried to keep his relationship with Xi Jinping outside of the fraught nature of the bilateral relationship, and he had said really since the beginning – since he first met with Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago – that this was a great friendship, and that they really liked each other, and they valued each other’s friendship. And then, all of a sudden, you know, he has turned 180 degrees and said, well, maybe, you know, they’re not such good friends any longer.
My guess is that President Trump sees this as a useful source of leverage against Xi Jinping. I’m not convinced, really, that it – that it works. But I think it actually was a better strategy – (laughs) – to say that he had a good friendship with Xi Jinping. But those two leaders, of course, will meet again in late November – I think it’s the 20th – at the G-20, and I’m sure in the runup to that meeting we’ll hear President Trump change his tune again.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
We have a question from Nei Ting (ph) from Voice of America. Please go ahead.
Q: Thank you very much. Good morning, all, for this call.
My question is more focused on the China meeting, if I may.
And separately, before I raise that question, when President Trump called off Pompeo’s August travel to North Korea, in the tweet on August 24 th he blamed China for not helping with the de-nuking process. And President Trump said that Pompeo looks forward to going to North Korea in the near future, most likely, quote, “after our trading relationship with China is resolved,” end of quote. So this time Pompeo is going to North Korea and China amid unresolved trade disputes with China. Do you think China was the scapegoat for canceling the August travel?
And, separately, Pompeo is heading to Beijing after Vice President Pence stepped up criticism against China. What should we look for in Pompeo’s China meeting? Thank you very much.
MS. GLASER: Well, very good questions.
I don’t think China was the scapegoat for the August cancellation. I think that there had been a discussion between the U.S. and China about what the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue agenda was going to look like. There was a vice minister, Zheng Zeguang, who came to Washington, D.C. in early September to prep for those talks. And then, of course, they were postponed.
And so I think it really is a big question as to what Secretary Pompeo wants to achieve in these talks. These won’t be trade negotiations. We certainly know that. That’s not Secretary Pompeo’s portfolio. And there is no sign that the Chinese are considering sending Liu He, even though Secretary Mnuchin had invited him to come to Washington.
So I think the trade talks are on ice right now. There will probably be discussions, I think, about North Korea. The Chinese are going to want to hear about Secretary Pompeo’s discussions in Pyongyang. They’re going to want to hear about U.S. strategy. I’m sure that Secretary Pompeo will want to hear Chinese positions on the sanctions, and particularly on ship-to-ship transfers. There is evidence that the Chinese have been at least turning a blind eye to the fact that Chinese ships are involved in the illicit transfer of oil at sea, and perhaps other sanctions violations.
I don’t think that the U.N. Panel of Experts report has been released yet, but there have been some leaks from it. I think the reports say that the Russians have been – have some reservations and been withholding the release. But it looks like there’s quite a bit of damning evidence about sanctions violations by the Chinese.
So I think that that will be on the agenda as well. There could be some discussions about South China Sea, but as far as that recent incident with the USS Decatur, that kind of incident will be discussed in the MMCA, the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement, which is where the two countries’ militaries talk about those kinds of close calls and how to avoid accidents in the air and at sea.
So the Chinese, of course, will raise Taiwan. They are concerned about U.S. policy toward Taiwan. They often do raise it in these kinds of discussions. The Chinese, I’m sure, are not happy that Vice President Pence held out Taiwan essentially as a model of democracy that China should follow. We haven’t heard this since George W. Bush talked about Taiwan as a beacon of democracy. So that’s probably an issue that will come up as well.
But the big – the larger question here is whether the two countries decide to tamp down friction, emphasize that they have a shared interest in trying to solve some of their problems if they actually find a way forward, or the relationship just continues to slide in the aftermath of this meeting. I think that is a real possibility.
There is the beginning of some talk that we are really moving toward a renewed cold war, this time between the U.S. and China. So I myself think that Vice President Pence’s speech yesterday was extremely confrontational and, as I said, will strengthen the view in China that the U.S. really doesn’t want good relations with China; it really wants to thwart China’s reemergence as a great power, which is, of course, Xi Jinping’s Chinese dream.
Q: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And our next question is from the line of Kylie Sertic from Kyodo News. Please go ahead.
Q: Good morning. Thank you for doing this.
I had a question for Sue Mi Terry. At the top you said that you think the second Trump-Kim summit will happen before the end of this year. Is that the case? Or is that just what you think the North Koreans want? And then you said something about happening before the midterms. Again, do you think they will put it together within a month, or was that just what the North Koreans would like?
MS. TERRY: Both North and South Koreans were pushing for this to happen as soon as possible. I’ve had a discussion with South Koreans who thought even that they wanted to do it potentially before the November election, if it was possible, to in a way sort of help President Trump. Not in the sense that necessarily North Korea would be such an important – you know, when people vote. Because foreign policy is not what people really vote on right now. But they thought at least with some press coverage that’s favorable, turning the attention to something positive, because when you look at the Singapore summit it looked like – you know, it’s a big fanfare and big media frenzy. But, so I think that was the goal. But North Koreans and South Koreans have said this – you know, and South Koreans pushed for it before the end of the year.
I think it’s now, you know, October 5th. I think it’s hard to pull something off before November election. Victor knows, to have a summit – to realize a summit is a very, very complicated process. Even if Kim Jong-un were to come to the United States, because I don’t think President Trump can leave the U.S. right before election – even so, I think that’s a very time-consuming, complicated thing to have someone like him come over. So I think we don’t have – we’re running out of time before November elections. But I do think everybody’s aligned in terms of interest of realizing the summit as soon as possible. So I think before the end of the year is likely.
Q: And do you have any sense of where it will be this time? Like, do they want to have it – I mean, like doing it in the U.S. would be very complicated. But would they potentially have it in South Korea, or a different, third country?
MS. TERRY: I don’t know. I think – you know, I think the U.S. would like – the Trump administration would like Kim to come to the United States. But I think it’s either U.S. or the DMZ area or South Korea. I’m not sure about a third neutral country. I don’t know if Victor has been hearing anything, but I think it’s – there’s no – there’s no decision on that at all yet. I mean, remember – yeah go ahead.
MR. CHA: I mean, there could be – I mean, so as was talked about in the previous – it could be Mongolia. You know, it’s got to be – if it’s going to be a third place, it’s got to be some place where the North Koreans have some infrastructure and a country with which they have good relations. So there are not many of those. (Laughs.) You know, Singapore, Mongolia, maybe Indonesia. But there are not that many. And then, of course, places like Mongolia and Indonesia are, from a – from a security infrastructure perspective, are very challenging, as opposed to a place like Singapore.
Look, the other thing is this is Donald Trump. He’s going to want to at some point have the North Korean leader at Mar-a-Lago, or something like that. I mean, you know, he’s – he wants the biggest television spectacle he can get. So at some point, you know, that’s like the – I don’t know about the timing. The one thing I will say about the urgency that the South Koreans feel, I think, is also because, you know, they have listed all of these very ambitious infrastructure and economic cooperation projects, which I think is part of – you know, which is partly driven by their progressive ideology, right? This is the first progressive government in 10 years in South Korea. This government feels like it has – it lost eight years – it lost 10 years from two conservative governments in South Korea. And it feels like it also lost eight years during the Obama administration, where nothing was really done on the North Korea issue. So I think they feel an urgency for that reason.
They also feel and urgency because of China. I think there are – they are concerned that now that there’s been more of a normal relationship between China and North Korea, the North Korean leader meeting with the Chinese leader, you know, several times, when he didn’t meet with him for the first six years of his rule. You know, I think the South Koreans are always concerned that the Chinese are going to play a larger role on the Korean Peninsula. So I think they’re motivated both by a desire – as Sue said, they’re motivated – the rapidity is motivated by the U.S. election clock, because they’re worried that, you know, if Trump loses this election then he may be – he may be distracted more than anything else.
And then, two, that the whole – the whole question about China is – and what role China can play in all of this. And then, three, of course, the South Korean – their own domestic agenda and a South Korean president that is, you know, losing steam in the polls. They’re used to having 70-80 percent approval rating and they’re – you know, they’re 20 points or so short of that now. They see these sorts of meetings as being metrics of success that will resonate with their domestic electorate.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
We have a question from Julian Borger with The Guardian. Please go ahead.
Q: Hello, thanks for this.
I just wanted to ask – Sue, you mentioned that the North Koreans were kind of focused on the possibility of impeachment; hence their focus on the midterms, and is that just a question of logic that that is what they would be concerned about, or is that chatter among North Koreans? Are they – you know, they’re focused on the mechanisms of impeachment. Are they asking about it, is there evidence for it?
MS. TERRY: I have not had North Koreans directly tell me this. What I did hear is that North Koreans are asking a lot, are following the election very, very closely. So this is logical based on what I know.
I did have a North Korean official tell me in one Track II meeting that they do see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I’m making the logical leap that they would not want the impeachment process because he thinks they can get something done, or they are eager to get something done under Trump.
Q: Got it, OK.
MR. CHA: Yeah, this is Victor, Julian.
I mean, the – I think what Sue says is right. The difference in North Korean interests now is that, in the past, they have always had an inflated view of how important they are to a U.S. president’s domestic success, right, that, oh, you know, if they – the president needs this deal, and therefore the North Koreans have bargaining leverage. They’ve always had that sort of inflated view, and in all of my interaction and Sue’s interaction with them, we’ve done our best to deflate that balloon as much as possible because it’s not – that’s actually incorrect.
But this time, I think – as Sue said – it’s not so much they have an inflated view of themselves, but they are really worried that the president, coming out on the other side of this election, may not be interested in this issue any more, may be hog-tied or hand-tied by his Congress, or may even be, right, on the docket for impeachment.
So it’s a different kind of concern that they’ve had in the past, which is, you know, what Sue is referencing, all these questions they are asking now about what’s happening.
MR. QUINN: OK. Lois, are we clear on the Q&A?
OPERATOR: Yes, that was our final question.
MR. QUINN: Okey-doke. Well, I think I will bring it to an end there.
Thank you so much to Bonnie and Sue and Victor for taking the time to speak today. Thank you all for joining this call. We will be sending out a transcript today, early this afternoon, so please look out for that.
If you have any follow-up questions, you can reach me, email@example.com, or Andrew Schwartz, firstname.lastname@example.org. And please do reach out if you have any follow-ups.
Thanks a lot.