China’s Support Of U.S.-North Korea Meeting : NPR

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Chinese President Xi Jinping praised President Trump’s willingness to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. NPR’s Michel Martin talks to former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Security Council David Pressman about how China fits into the negotiations.


Let’s turn now to the president’s announcement that he will meet face-to-face with Kim Jong Un. Now, that was shocking because just months ago, Trump and Kim were trading personal insults. Now, though, the South Korean official who brokered the deal says the meeting will happen within two months. The White House says a time and place to be determined. We decided to tack a bit here and take a look at the role of another key player, China.

This morning, the president tweeted, quote, “Chinese President Xi Jinping and I spoke at length about the meeting with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. President Xi told me he appreciates that the U.S. is working to solve the problem diplomatically, rather than going with the ominous alternative. China continues to be helpful.” China won’t actually be part of these talks, but the country arguably has the biggest stake in this negotiation. They have a longstanding alliance with Pyongyang as North Korea’s chief trade partner and energy supplier.

To talk more about all this, we called Ambassador David Pressman. Ambassador Pressman represented the U.S. on the United Nations Security Council under President Obama and led the U.S. negotiations with China over North Korea sanctions. Those negotiations culminated in what were at the time the most robust sanctions on North Korea imposed in years. Ambassador, welcome. Thanks for speaking to us.

DAVID PRESSMAN: It’s a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: So just to clarify, this is in fact the first time – if this happens, this will be the first time a sitting U.S. president has met with the leader of North Korea. Now, for somebody who’s got a deep background in the region, that might seem like a strange question. But I think for most people, it would be, why? What’s taken so long?

PRESSMAN: Well, you know, certainly no lack of enthusiasm from the North Korean side. Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung – both of Kim Jong Un’s predecessors – had been hankering for a meeting with the United States president. It is something that every successive American president has not agreed to do, and I think for very clear, very good reason. And that is that a summit with the American president is the prize that typically comes at the end of a process. It is not the beginning of one.

MARTIN: So let’s talk about the Chinese side of this, though. China seems to be quite enthusiastic about this. The Chinese foreign minister on Friday urged both sides to show, quote-unquote, “political courage.” So what does that look like from the Chinese perspective? And, talk a little bit more, if you would, about where China is in this and what they hope to gain from these talks.

PRESSMAN: I mean, China, for years, has been advocating for the United States to sit down and talk with the North Koreans with no preconditions. And the U.S. policy has consistently been, we’re happy to talk with the North Koreans, but we’re happy to talk to them about denuclearization. And what appears to have just happened is that the president of the United States has agreed to meet with the leader of North Korea in what is essentially talks without any conditions – because how on earth could there be conditions to those talks when there’s been no preparatory process whatsoever leading up to it? And so I think this is a win for China in that it involves the United States in direct, senior-most level negotiations with the North Koreans and does it in a manner that essentially the United States has achieved nothing at the front end.

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