New Yorker’s Evan Osnos: Dispatch From Pyongyang
October 2, 2017
BOB SCHIEFFER: I’m Bob Schieffer.
H. ANDREW SCHWARTZ: And I’m Andrew Schwartz.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And these are conversations about the news. We’re in the midst of a communications revolution. We have access to more information than any people in history. But are we more informed, or just overwhelmed by so much information we can’t process it?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Our podcast is a collaboration of the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at TCU and CSIS in Washington.
MR. SCHIEFFER: In this first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, we’re talking to the reporters who are covering the president the closest, the White House press corps.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Joining us today is Evan Osnos. He is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where he has covered politics and foreign affairs since 2008. He spent a great deal of his career reporting on China. For four years he wrote Letter from China, a blog published on TheNewYorker.com. Before that he worked at – the Beijing bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune. He was on the team that won the 2008 Pulitzer for investigative reporting. He’s also worked in the Middle East, reported from Iraq. He has contributed to This American Life podcast, and has been a correspondent for PBS’s “FRONTLINE/World.” He’s won many awards through his career, including the 2014 National Book Award for his book “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.”
What we want to talk to him about today is his recent trip to North Korea. He wrote a fascinating article last week on the threat of nuclear conflict in The New Yorker. Evan, thank you very much. And I just want to start by quoting part of your conclusion after you came back from this trip to North Korea. You say – and this is you talking – “In 18 years of reporting, I’ve never felt as much uncertainty at the end of a project, a feeling that nobody – not the diplomats, the strategists or the scholars who have devoted their lives to the subject – is able to describe with confidence how the other side thinks. We simply don’t know how Kim Jong-un really regards the use of his nuclear arsenal, how much North Korea’s seclusion and mythology has distorted his understanding of American resolve. We don’t know if he is taking ever-greater risks because he’s determined to fulfill his family’s dream for retaking South Korea, or because he’s afraid of ending up like Gadhafi” – who, of course, was killed after he gave up his nuclear weapons. And you stress in this article that while we don’t know what he’s thinking, he doesn’t really know what we’re thinking.
EVAN OSNOS: Absolutely. Thanks, Bob, for having me here today.
And I – the dominant impression that I came away with from being in Pyongyang, and from then interviewing people in Seoul and in Beijing and in Washington over the course of several months before that trip, was that I would talk to people who were immensely knowledgeable about the dynamic between the U.S. and North Korea. They’ve dedicated their lives to it in the intelligence community, in – scholars, analysts, diplomats, and so on. And there would come a point in every one of these interviews where you would hit the boundaries of the black box. And, you know, in some ways that’s a cliché when we try to analyze hard targets, but I’ve never encountered one that is truer, a harder target, really, than North Korea.
I mean, in China, where I worked for a long time, we would often say it was very hard to know what was going on at the inner ring of Chinese politics. But we knew much more and we know much more than we did and we do about North Korean strategic thinking. And that is a powerful fact as we’re trying to decide how they’re going to react to us and how our actions are being perceived.
MR. SCHIEFFER: It’s interesting to me that this family, Kim’s family, they’ve been in control now for, what, three generations, or is four?
MR. OSNOS: Right, it’s three generations, going back to the founding of the country.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And so the people of North Korea have lived sort of in this box, blocked off from the rest of the world, for three generations.
MR. OSNOS: Yeah. Yeah, it’s unique, after all, in the communist world to have a hereditary dictatorship, and it’s by design. Kim Il-sung took a look at what happened in the other communist countries. He looked at what happened in the Soviet Union and in – and in China when the first great leader died, and there was always a fight for power or there was at least turbulence at the top. There was some uncertainty. And very often that late leader suddenly found his name being reexamined. So in Stalin’s case, of course, there was turmoil around how Stalin’s legacy would be perceived. In China, they said famously that Mao had been 70 percent right and 30 percent wrong. Kim Il-sung didn’t want to have to face that sort of reckoning or that sort of political trauma, so he said I’ve got the perfect solution, and Kim Jong-il was named in 1994 as his heir. And then ultimately Kim Jong-un, the current leader, took power at the end of 2011, when Kim Jong-il died.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So what kind of a guy is he? How much do we know about him? I mean, we know he has a bad haircut.
MR. OSNOS: (Chuckles.) Yeah.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I’ve often said the question I’ve never heard anyone ask is how can I get an appointment with his barber. (Laughter.) But other than that, what do we know about him?
MR. OSNOS: Well, oddly enough, you know, the haircut is also a revealing indicator of some of the political dynamics in North Korea. What I mean is that the haircut is designed to look like something out of the 1950s or the early ’60s, which in the North Korean imagination was the heyday of North Korea. That was the golden age. You know, that’s when they had an economy that was bigger than South Korea’s. They were still in many ways the beneficiaries of the infrastructure that was built by Japan during World War II and before. And so their economy was actually going quite well. They had Soviet backing from Moscow. And then, of course, everything went off the cliff, and all of the accumulated effects of mismanagement culminated in the famine that took hold in 1994.
But the point is that in the North Korean political vocabulary, looking like Kim Il-sung, the late grandfather, was a very shrewd move on Kim Jong-un’s part, and not an accident. I mean, he did this on purpose. He put on weight. He started wearing glasses that looked much like his grandfather’s. And there was some speculation that he might have even had plastic surgery to look like it. There’s nothing that confirms that. But he’s gone out of his way. He actually even walks like his grandfather. He claps like his grandfather. So his father, Kim Jong-il, was not popular, and – because he was in charge during the famine years and other reasons. That’s the connection Kim Jong-un wants to emphasize in his own political pedigree.
But you asked about what we know about the son, or the grandson as we say, who’s running the country now. Well, we know a couple of important facts. And I think the most important fact about him is that we have often underestimated him. When he came into power in 2011, a lot of people said he may not be around all that long because there were these very powerful military and political elites with decades of experience who would perhaps control him or even engineer him out of office. He had very little experience in the military, very little experience in politics. He really came out of nowhere. And there’s a telling image, which is that when his father died there were seven other pallbearers around the casket, Kim Jong-un leading the way; within two years, he had executed two of those pallbearers and he had purged three others from the party. So these figures, these powerful figures in North Korean politics who he was theoretically going to be subject to, he figured out ways of getting rid of them. And that was an indicator, I think, to many of us analysts around the world that this was a different player than we thought we were dealing with, a cannier player, somebody who understands a little more about his own domestic political scene.
And for that reason – you know, he took office as the world’s youngest head of state. He’s now been in office for six-and-a-half years. And I think there’s a general – which is longer, after all, than almost any other leader in Northeast Asia, depending on how you count Abe’s time in power. And as a result, we have to begin to see him, rather than the new guy in town, as being somebody who has a fairly substantial set of controls over his – over his system.
MR. SCHIEFFER: How informed do we believe he is? Because you said something in the article that – I believe you said that he has never met with another head of state.
MR. OSNOS: That’s right. He’s never met with another head of state. There have been attempts. Cuba managed to get its number two in front of him. Mongolia, I’m told, was very disappointed when they couldn’t get their number one in front of him.
One of the biggest sources of concern to Western analysts is that they have no identified a channel with which to convey reliable information in or out to Kim Jong-un’s leadership. That’s a problem. For a while Jang Song-thaek, his uncle, was a pathway particularly that Beijing could use to get in to Kim Jong-un’s circle. Jang Song-thaek, however, was executed a couple years ago. And that was an indicator to Beijing, and also to many of us, that he was secluding himself more and more within a circle of people who are faithful, reliable, probably sycophantic. And at this point it’s not clear to us that anybody around him is willing to stand up and tell him you may be making catastrophic mistakes if you continue down this path, and that’s a real source of concern.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So you say that we don’t understand what he’s thinking and what his expectations are, and he probably doesn’t understand what we’re thinking or what our expectations are. So where does that leave us?
MR. OSNOS: At a moment of almost historic uncertainty. You know, we have been engaged with North Korea in this complicated on again, off again hostility ever since 1953, when the Korean War ended in a ceasefire but not a peace treaty, meaning that the war itself has technically continued. When I was in North Korea recently, I was surprised by the number of questions that the North Koreans had for me about Washington, D.C. And this was the sort of – you know, this was late in the evening. This would be after we’d had hours of kind of more formal discussion, and they would be asking me questions about Donald Trump. They were trying to – frankly, they’re trying to understand if he means what he says.
They said to me: Is it normal for a secretary of defense, James Mattis, or a secretary of – or a – or another senior advisor to be making statements that are at odds with the president’s comments? Because they had seen this happening, because there had been at least five members of the administration who had offered their own particular version of what the North Korea policy could be, and they were confused by it. And so they’re trying to understand if this is deliberate on America’s part or whether this is, in fact, a measure of a – of a form of decision-making incoherence. They’re really unsure.
But in some ways, the playbook that North Korea has used through three previous presidencies, going back to the beginning of their nuclear program, is no longer serving them very well. And they’re trying to figure out how to make sense of Donald Trump in real time.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Andrew?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Thanks, Bob.
Evan, you describe North Korea as being unlike any other place you’ve ever been. It’s unlike even Cuba. Is it the weirdest place you’ve ever been?
MR. OSNOS: Yeah, I guess I feel like I’ve got a high tolerance for weird after doing this business for a long time. But in the last few years, it just happens to be that I’ve been reporting in countries that are very, very isolated, places like Myanmar. I was in Cuba a couple years ago. And North Korea is unto itself in the sense that it operates in a kind of ideological time capsule where it feels to me, as somebody who spent a lot of my career working on China, I feel as if I’ve stepped into China in 1968, in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, in the sense that you go down the street and you see billboards dedicated to pictures of the U.S. Capitol that have been collapsed by North Korean missiles, or you see slogans promoting the leadership’s wisdom in decision-making. And, you know, in some ways I think it’s a remarkable fact that you have a country today that is almost entirely cut off from the internet, except for elites, who have some access to it. You know, the ability to look at South Korean television and film is a crime in North Korea. It happens. It’s now smuggled in quite regularly, and we could talk about that. But it is still illegal to do so. So it is – it is a place that is – that is really unlike anywhere else I’ve been.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Does anybody actually have any fun there? Do they do anything for fun?
MR. OSNOS: Yeah, they do, and I think it’s worth pointing that out. I was in Pyongyang mostly, but in Pyongyang they made a point of taking me to places – this would be no surprise – but they took me to places like the zoo and the natural history museum and places like that. That is a – that’s a performance. They want me to see that they have built the kinds of leisure activities that other countries have. But it’s also, on some level, true.
And, you know, we’re able to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time, so this is not a defense of the – of the regime to say that people find ways within the confines and the – and the repression to live their lives. So, yeah, I mean, just to blunt about it, you know, if you go as we did on a national – there was a holiday that celebrates the end of the Japanese occupation. This happened to coincide with my trip. And so I went to the zoo that day and saw people sitting around, having picnics with their families. And this is in the midst of this intense standoff with the United States, but people are in some ways used to it. They’ve been listening to that, hearing that for 70 years. And so life goes on.
But I’ll just add a point here, which is Pyongyang is not North Korea. Pyongyang is a thing. It’s an important piece of it; it’s 10 percent of the national population. But it is also handpicked elites, people who are politically reliable, people who benefit from the system. If you go out into the country, it is a much, much poorer place. On average, it’s about the same level of human development as Haiti. It’s a little bit behind Yemen on measures of GDP.
MR. SCHWARTZ: And with being handpicked, I mean, you’re talking about even, you know, nobody in a wheelchair is in Pyongyang.
MR. OSNOS: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, there are some, but you don’t see them when you’re going down the street. It is a country where people are actually literally picked on the basis of physical health. That’s one of the measures by which families are approved to live in the showpiece of the country, which is the capital that is for foreign consumption as much as it is actually inhabited as a political capital.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this. We keep hearing from the administration China has got to do more in regard to North Korea. When you were there, what sense of China did you get from the Koreans? What do they think about China?
MR. OSNOS: This is a really interesting point. I think – the North Koreans were very tough on China when I talked about it with them. They said to me that they believe that China regards them as a bargaining chip in a broader conflict with the United States. And they believe that they can’t rely on China to be a steward of their interests as long as China is ultimately more focused on how it’s going to apportion control and power in the Asia-Pacific region.
And what was fascinating was, you know, I think the casual understanding in America is China is North Korea’s patron, and that if China turns the knob and turns off the trade, that that will bring North Korea to heel. And it’s very much not the case.
I spent five days in Beijing before I went into Pyongyang, seeing a number of scholars and other folks there who I’ve known over the years. And I was very struck by how little sense of sympathy or trust there was between the Chinese establishment – these are foreign policy thinkers and analysts, people connected to the government – and the North Korean cause. A generation ago that would have been very different. You would have had some fellow feeling. But not at all today.
There’s an expression that I’ve heard that the – this is an expression Koreans have used to describe how China treats them. Some North Korean government officials have said that China treats us like the dirt between its toes. And, you know, that’s – it used to be – Mao famously said that North Korea and China are as close as lips and teeth. And I thought, well, you’ve gone a long way from lips and teeth now.
MR. SCHIEFFER: The dirt between the toes.
MR. OSNOS: Doesn’t get much worse than that, I think.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And then from the Korean side of it.
MR. OSNOS: Yeah. Well, the Korean side is just very frustrated by that. I mean, they feel as if – they feel as if they are all alone because China is now focused mostly on its relationship with the United States. And that’s a meaningful fact. If North Korea feels isolated, it’s going to act differently than if it was a country that feels as if it’s got this meaningful security alliance with China.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, you mean by that act differently in a good way –
MR. OSNOS: No, I’m afraid not.
MR. SCHIEFFER: – or a bad way?
MR. OSNOS: I think that in some ways that North Korean desperation is an ingredient in the stew here that we have to be very aware of. I heard this over and over when I was on the ground. They would say to me: You need to be aware that if the United States pushes us further and further towards the edge of the cliff, that we’re prepared to take radical steps. Meaning, as they – I mean, they were very blunt. They said we will do it, we’ll push the button. You know, if we think that it’s either going to be the destruction of our country, destruction of our regime or using our weapons, then we will use our weapons. And they – this was a – I mean, this was a relentless message they repeated over and over again.
And the job for me in some sense is to be – is to be clear in how much of this is theater and how much of this is strategy, and how much can we really know. And the answer is we don’t really know. And so I like to sort of mention that because I think it’s important for people to know that some of this is about – is about bluffing.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, you know, you’re talking about, in your article and here, this is a standoff. And you talked about brinkmanship.
MR. OSNOS: Yeah.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, the leaders we’re talking about here aren’t exactly JFK and Nikita Khrushchev.
MR. OSNOS: Right. Yeah, that was a – that’s a crucial fact in how we got to where we are, is that we’ve got two leaders – President Trump and Kim Jong-un – who have a combined seven years of political experience. Each of them prides himself on being unpredictable, confrontational. Each one, in a sense, has grown up in an environment where they were the heirs to power, they were the heirs to fortune in Donald Trump’s case, and neither one has really ultimately ever walked into a crisis from which he has not been rescued.
In Donald Trump’s case, he’s a businessman. I mean, this is – he’s said it himself. Of course, he’s been bankrupt four times, his companies have, and he’s used the law to be able to resurrect his business career. He’s gotten into government, where he has a lot of people around him who are in the position of trying to help him succeed.
So we’re in a – we’re in precarious waters here because we’ve got two people who have never encountered precisely the dynamic that they’re now in. And in some ways the careers that brought them to this moment don’t serve them well when it comes to navigating this kind of confrontation because if they use the same playbook that they used on the way up, that may be a disservice to them now.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So I’ll ask you the obvious questions, and that is the tweets, the rhetoric. Assess what you think the impact of that is.
MR. OSNOS: I think that the tweets, the personalization of the conflict is a very serious step down and a step towards confrontation, for the following reason. When I was there, I was spending time with North Korean government officials whose job is to study President Trump. They read his Twitter feed very closely. They listen to every word out of his mouth. They read transcripts of his speeches. And what they’re looking for are indicators of whether or not this is a president who is seeking a diplomatic solution to this.
And what they told me was that they had paid attention to the fact that in the early months of his administration he had avoided talking in particularly harsh terms about Kim Jong-un. He’d avoided personalizing it. And they thought that that was a sign that he had the ultimate intention to pivot towards negotiation.
Since my trip, and just in the last couple of weeks, really, we’ve seen, obviously, the president has moved very squarely in the direction of making this a personal confrontation. He calls Kim Jong-un now “rocket man” or “little rocket man.” That’s being consumed in real time by the North Koreans.
And I think we also have to bear in mind that Kim Jong-un’s own domestic picture, his own domestic politics are such that as a young leader he has to be especially alert to anything that makes him look weak or compromising in the face of older political and military elites. And for that reason he has to be, in a sense, especially sensitive to criticism. It’s one of the reasons why you saw him respond, very unusually, in a personal address that he read on television in North Korea and then was transmitted over here.
So I think the personalization of the conflict shifts – this is a new chapter, and a very dangerous one.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, when you talk about they’re trying to figure out if he is really looking for a way to negotiate, what would that be? I mean, what would the negotiation be? What would they want out of a negotiation?
MR. OSNOS: Well, ultimately what they want is acknowledgement by the United States of their legitimacy as a nation because, after all, we have no diplomatic recognition. We’ve never formally signed a peace treaty that ends the war. So from their – from their position, the United States has not fully embraced the existence of North Korea, the DPRK – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – as a valid player in the international system. So that’s number one. Whether or not that requires a peace treaty is a – is a more technical question.
I think in the short term they would be open, but not now – right now they’re not open to diplomatic talks. But in the – in the – what they’re eventually trying to get is the United States to essentially regard them the way that we regard Pakistan, which is, in effect, a nuclear power. We don’t formally recognize it as such, but we live with it. And we then use all the tools at our disposal – diplomacy, arms control, the threat that if Pakistan used its nuclear weapons against India that we would respond with – you know, in meaningful ways – that we use those tools to coexist, in effect. That’s what North Korea wants. At the moment, the United States is not going to – A, they’re not going to do that right now, and they’re not even going to say that they would consider doing that because of the – you know, the intensity of the hostility.
But over five months I talked to people from all across the political spectrum on the question of how we’re probably going to end up with – what we’re going to end up doing with North Korea. As awkward as it is to talk about right now, the reality is that the best tool we’ve ever had for dealing with the nuclear age is deterrence. It’s the threat of mutually assured destruction. It worked with the Soviets when they had 70,000 warheads. And on some level, there’s nothing in the theory of deterrence that prevents us from being able to use those tools with North Korea.
But the administration – and you hear this out of the mouth of H.R. McMaster. He said it to me, and he’s said it to others. He’s not sure that deterrence works with North Korea because he doesn’t know if they can abide by that logic. You know, are they suicidal, or would they make the mistakes that would lead to their suicide?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, that’s one of the things I wanted to ask you about also. You know, we don’t know much about Kim Jong-un. The CIA even told you that we know very little about him and his family in general, and about the country. One of the things we do know about him is he’s pretty brutal, and he’s notorious for being brutal.
MR. OSNOS: He is. He has purged a number of elites, including his own uncle. And he made a point – and, you know, just recently, earlier this year, Kim’s government is believed to be responsible for assassinating his half-brother at the airport in Kuala Lumpur using a VX nerve agent.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Right.
MR. OSNOS: So, you know, these are – when you kill somebody that way or you kill his uncle in the way that he did, this is designed to send a message to others in the system: Don’t challenge me in any way.
But I think there’s a couple ways to read the brutality, and I think one of the important ways to read that brutality is that this is a man who is fanatically dedicated to his own preservation. And that is crucial for us to bear in mind. I think in some ways over the last 15 years, since 9/11, we’ve become accustomed to the idea that there are suicidal political actors out there – you know, whether it’s ISIS or whether it is other jihadist movements, that there are people who are actively seeking martyrdom as they would perceive it. And we make a mistake by allowing North Korea to almost drift under that framework as we talk about it because this is – if anything, North Korea has demonstrated that its one overriding interest over the last 70 years has been the preservation of the Kim dynasty, where we started this conversation. You know, it is – they are brutal because of the fact that they want to keep themselves in power. And so as we calculate and anticipate – and it’s going to continue over the weeks and months ahead – as we work on trying to understand what North Korea wants, I think we have to maintain foremost in our minds the idea that every decision they’ve made over the last 70 years has been about buttressing and fortifying the leadership and the durability of the Kim family.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, I think that’s a really good point. I mean, after all, as you point out in your article, this is a leader who, whenever he goes to a school, they embalm his every –
MR. OSNOS: Right.
MR. SCHWARTZ: You know, they put his chair in plexiglass. They trace his steps. This doesn’t seem to me to be somebody who – you know, he’s building monuments to himself everywhere he goes.
MR. OSNOS: Yeah, he – quite literally. I mean, I found that tradition in North Korea where they take anything he touches and instantly turn it into their relic like, you know, the bones of a saint, you know, that is – that is – there’s not a whole lot of places in the world that still do that. And that gets at – that’s a sign of he’s treated as a sort of semi-divine figure. But from a strategic and analytical perspective, that tells me this is not a man who is – who’s looking to end it all. This is a guy who, if given the opportunity, would like to be meeting with Dennis Rodman at his seaside villa.
MR. SCHWARTZ: I knew we couldn’t get through this podcast – (laughter) – without talking about Rodman, yeah.
MR. OSNOS: I think it’s the first time Rodman needs to be mentioned on the CSIS podcast.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Absolutely, absolutely.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So will more sanctions have an impact? Have sanctions worked? I mean, we’ve been putting sanctions on him, what, 11 times –
MR. OSNOS: That’s right, yeah.
MR. SCHIEFFER: – we’ve done sanctions and they now have, what, 20, 30, 40 nuclear weapons?
MR. OSNOS: Yeah, they’ve got 20 to 60 warheads, are the best estimates.
The answer is that actually sanctions have not worked in the way that we wanted them to or that their supporters would have liked. Today North Korea has GDP growth annually of about 3.9 percent, according to independent estimates, which means that it’s faster than South Korea, it’s faster than the United States.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I found that fascinating.
MR. OSNOS: Yeah, they’ve managed to exploit the loopholes in the sanctions regime to the degree that has allowed their economy to grow quite substantially.
But that’s a separate question from whether sanctions of any kind can work. And I think that’s an important pivot point where we are now, because the sanctions in many ways were ineffective, and some of the people who implement them have told me that. They recognize in great detail that they haven’t worked, mostly because China and Russia have been willing to help them in still facilitating trade, making sure there’s money going in and out.
But the U.S. has and they U.N. Security Council has recently adopted a new, much harsher form of sanctions that would in theory allow for there to be a tougher effect, meaning that they’re going after Chinese companies, they’re going after Chinese banks. And this has always been the crutch that holds up the North Korean economy. And if, in fact, this new form of sanctions does begin to pinch, I think it’s worth at least bearing that prospect in mind. It would help, but the reality is that sanctions take a while to bring about a change in political decision-making. And at this point, it may be months or years before that ultimately persuades the Kim family to take a different course. And we’re dealing with a crisis that is in – that is live, and so we need to have other tools in the toolbox besides long-range sanctions.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Where is Russia in all this? I’ve had some diplomats say to me that Russia may be actually helping them on their nuclear program.
MR. OSNOS: It’s possible that they’re helping them. I don’t have anything on that.
But Russia is playing a meddlesome role here. They have facilitated petroleum imports into North Korea, which has been important, particularly as China has quietly begun to reduce its oil and refined petroleum product exports. I mean, that’s a big deal.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And what about Iran? Is there any connection there?
MR. OSNOS: I don’t know. This is a very political question in some ways because – partly related to the Iran deal. You’ve got arguments against the Iran deal that are predicated in part on the idea that they’re helping North Korea, and I don’t know enough to be able to say for sure. It just happened to be that on my flight into North Korea that there were Iranian diplomats. I saw them go through the diplomatic channel at passport –
MR. SCHIEFFER: If we pull out of the Iran deal, will that have an impact on Korea and our relations there?
MR. OSNOS: I think it will. I think it will, in an important way. One of the things that became very clear in my dealings with the North Korean government is that they’re acutely alert to the way that American politics can affect our approach to North Korea. They knew and they identified the fact that at the end of the Clinton administration they felt that they were as close as they’ve ever been to coming up with a long-term diplomatic arrangement with the United States. The Bush administration came in and had a very different approach. They did not recertify a communique from the Clinton administration which had expressed no hostile intent towards North Korea, and they also of course included North Korea in the Axis of Evil alongside Iraq and Iran. That was a signal moment in North Korea’s interpretation of our political process because what they came to believe was, well, it may be that a deal that you strike with us may not be as durable as we thought it was. And if the Iran deal is – if the Iran deal fails as a result of a change in our presidential administration, this sends a pretty clear message to North Korea that they should be cautious about any deal they strike with the United States because it may not last.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I think your piece in The New Yorker was the single best piece of reporting on North Korea that I’ve seen.
MR. OSNOS: Thanks, Bob.
MR. SCHIEFFER: In the event there’s somebody who didn’t read that article, what do you think the most important thing to know about this situation right now is? And this will be the last question.
MR. OSNOS: I think the most important thing to know is that North Korea is deeply committed to its nuclear weapons on a level that we may not appreciate from far away. If they had one message for me over the course of my visit and in all of my dealings with others who are involved in the North Korean government from afar, it’s that they believe that they have entered a new phase in their history in which they are no longer subject to the whims of the United States, they’re able to defend themselves. And so if our policy is rooted, is preconditioned in the idea that they have to give up those nuclear weapons, then we are boxing ourselves in to a degree that may not be to our interest. And we have to at least be open to the possibility that there are other ultimate destinations here, including deterrence of the kind that we used to keep the Soviet Union at bay during the Cold War.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Evan Osnos, great job. We’re glad you’re back home safe.
MR. OSNOS: Thanks, Bob.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And keep up the good work.
For Andrew Schwartz, this is Bob Schieffer. Thanks for joining us.