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The Peninsula

An Interview with Ambassador Joseph Yun on the U.S.-North Korea Summit

Published June 7, 2018
Author: Jenna Gibson
Category: North Korea

KEI Communications Director Jenna Gibson, host of the KEI podcast Korean Kontext, recently interviewed Ambassador Joseph Yun, former U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy at the State Department.

The following is a partial transcript of that conversation, which has been edited for space. The rest of the episode can be found here.

Gibson: I want to start at the beginning, with the first meeting that will be taking place between a U.S. leader, President Trump, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. We saw during the inter-Korean summit, the first meeting between President Moon of South Korea and Kim went very well, it kind of captured people’s imaginations even, this first greeting. So how do you expect it will go when Trump and Kim meet for the first time?

Yun: Like you, I thought the meeting between Kim Jong-un and President Moon of South Korea went very well. I mean, I felt that this was really the first time we saw Kim Jong-un fairly up close, as he did a press conference afterwards. And I think he came across much more human, a real person, not like a caricature Americans are used to seeing. And then of course he met twice with President Xi Jinping of China and most recently he also met with Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia. So all that tells me is that he is pretty much ready for prime time. So in Singapore I expect the meetings to go smoothly. And also I think you saw the way President Trump greeted Kim Jong-un’s special envoy Kim Yong Chol only a few days ago, that was a very warm greeting, and President Trump came out of the White House to go to the driveway, accompanied him all the way to his car, had a photo op with the North Korean delegation. So everyone’s going to put on just excellent diplomatic protocol, if I may call it that.

Gibson: Did that surprise you, the warm welcome for Kim Yong Chol?

Yun: It did in some ways, but of course this is a summit which President Trump, I believe, has been wanting for a long time. Even before he became president, even during the campaign, he made it clear that these big issues – denuclearization, or normalization of relationship with North Korea, is something he wanted to do face-to-face at a summit with the other leader. So to me, it was not a big surprise that he took the arrangement that South Korea made so readily. He’s been following the issue very closely for a long time. So I’m really in a bit of a disagreement with people who say he’s not well prepared. I think he is adequately prepared.

Gibson: One thing that a lot of us particularly who are Korea policy wonks are watching closely is if and how President Trump brings up any of the related issues with North Korea. Of course the nuclear program is the big, main issue they’re going to discuss, but there are of course issues with cyber capabilities, biological and chemical weapons, human rights, etc. Do you think President Trump should try to address any of these other issues at the Singapore meeting and if so, how?

Yun: Well I think the highest priority issue is of course denuclearization and, accompanying that issue, what North Korea wants in terms of North Korea’s own security. Now, there are some of the issues like cybersecurity, but there are many other issues. What do you do about biochem weapons? What do you do about conventional weapons? What do you do about human rights? And another example related to that is Japanese abductions. What do you do about refugee issues? Clearly if you load that all together in one agenda, that’s going to be too much. So in that sense, I can completely understand why the administration would want to stick with priority issues. But I can also understand people who feel deeply, for example, about human rights, that might not get raised. And also, what does normalization or international legitimacy for North Korea look like – eventually these issues will have to be addressed in some form or another.

Gibson: So the summit is going to take place on June 12, next week. What do you think June 13 looks like? What are the next steps?

Yun: What I would like to see from the summit is the two leaders agree very broadly on things like denuclearization and security assurances for North Korea, and thereafter, have some immediate concrete steps that they can roll out. So that, I would say, would constitute credibility going forward that there is something in place. So with those immediate next steps should include a process on how to deal with step-by-step denuclearization and with step-by-step security assurances. So if we see broad agreements followed by some immediate concrete steps and a process that goes along with it, I think that certainly would meet my own test as a credible summit.

Gibson: For those of us who on June 12th, or late on the 11th here in the States, will be glued to the news or glued to Twitter, do you have any recommendations for things to watch out for or things you might be expecting during the summit?

Yun: Well certainly you should see what the outcome documents look like, I think that’s very important that the two leaders agree on paper to something. What do they agree on denuclearization? Is it going further than we have gone before, not just agreeing in principle to denuclearize, but are there concrete steps? So you should look at what the immediate steps are. Similarly on the security side, you should look at: Is there a path to an end of war declaration? Is there a path to peace treaty negotiations? Is there a path to diplomatic normalization? So those are the things that I would look for.

Photo provided by Korea Economic Institute of America.

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