Morning News Brief: Primary Elections, U.S.-North Korea Summit

Jun 13, 2018
Originally published on June 13, 2018 10:01 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. So what do we make of this? North Korean state media are saying more than the White House did about yesterday's presidential summit. The North Koreans claim that President Trump made big concessions.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, these reports say that the president agreed to a step-by-step process of nuclear disarmament and also talked about the U.S. lifting sanctions. And this, of course, raises this question of exactly what the two men agreed to face-to-face that might not have been in writing.

INSKEEP: OK. So what are the claims? Let's start with NPR's Anthony Kuhn, who's been following this story.

Hey there, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: And he was of course part of our team at the Singapore summit.

What are the North Koreans claiming that goes beyond this very brief statement that President Trump and Kim Jong Un put out after the meeting?

KUHN: OK. So the Korean Central News Agency, the main state-owned news agency, is reporting that Kim and Trump agreed that denuclearization would be a step-by-step process. And each time North Korea takes a step towards denuclearization, they get rewards or incentives. And as recently as May, the Trump administration was saying no, we're only going to reward North Korea when it's completely gotten rid...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

KUHN: ...Of its nukes. Otherwise, the U.S. is going to get played.

North Korea is going to take those rewards but keep their nukes in the end, just as they've done in the past. Now, remember that the U.S. has not confirmed these North Korean media reports. But it does suggest that some verbal agreement was made between Trump and Kim which was not included in their joint statement. And if it turns out to be true, it will be very interesting that we are getting this from North Korean state media first.

INSKEEP: Is there any hint that this claim by the North Koreans could be true - any bit of information in there that makes it seem credible?

KUHN: You could say that. This report also mentioned a couple other things. One is that the U.S. is going to suspend military exercises with South Korea, and President Trump actually confirmed this in his presser yesterday. This was not in the statement. And it was also interesting that South Korea and the U.S. military in South Korea were not informed about this. They didn't know about it.

INSKEEP: OK. So there is, then, some...

KUHN: A Chinese analyst who spoke to me today said this was too good to be true.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) OK. So there is, then, some suggestion that perhaps the two leaders went a little bit beyond their communique. What else is North Korea saying?

KUHN: They're also saying that the U.S. could lift sanctions before North Korea completely denuclearizes. And, you know, President Trump did say at his presser yesterday that he hoped that sanctions could be lifted soon. So Trump's position has changed in recent months. And it's changed a lot closer to what North Korea and China want.

INSKEEP: One other thing before we analyze this further, Anthony - this phrase security guarantees - there is a general notion of that, that the U.S. would guarantee North Korea's regime security in some way. Is there any more detail from the North Koreans about what that might mean?

KUHN: We don't know yet. But an analyst pointed out to me yesterday that then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last August that the U.S. does not seek the overthrow of the North Korean regime. And that's the sort of guarantee North Korea's talking about. That's the only thing which would cause them to give up their nukes, if at all.

INSKEEP: OK. So a little bit more information - maybe - from at least one side about this summit.

Anthony, thanks very much.

KUHN: You bet, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn.

Now let's get some response from here in the United States. How was this summit received by American lawmakers?

GREENE: Well, American lawmakers were getting all of this news and trying to figure out what was happening in Singapore on what was a busy day. Some of them were running in primary elections. And also, Republicans were trying to push forward on the issue of immigration.

INSKEEP: NPR's congressional reporter Kelsey Snell has been covering all this.

Hey there, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi, there.

INSKEEP: So what are lawmakers saying about the summit and the communique that came out of it?

SNELL: There was a lot of cautious optimism and a lot of questions from lawmakers. So Vice President Mike Pence came up to Capitol Hill to brief Republicans about the summit. And after that meeting, Republican senators came out saying that it wasn't really clear to them exactly what was agreed to. And they want to see what the president can do. They want to see him continue to negotiate. But people like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and top party leaders said that they just worry about negotiating with Kim. And they want to kind of just let this president have more space. Here is what Republican John Kennedy of Louisiana said.

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JOHN KENNEDY: Dealing with a butcher like Kim is like hand-feeding a shark. You can do it. But you have to do it very, very carefully.

INSKEEP: Hand-feeding a shark - OK.

SNELL: Yeah. I mean, part of what they said is that they would love it if Congress could have a role in overseeing this agreement. But that would be a treaty. And treaties take 67 votes to be ratified in the Senate. And that is really hard to get even when people generally agree on what the outcome should be. And this Congress has not always been agreeing with this president about the way they would like to go on just about anything.

INSKEEP: Awful lot of interesting responses. One of them was on Twitter in a thread yesterday by Mike Gallagher, a representative from Wisconsin. He's only, I think, 34 years old - mid-30s, Iraq veteran. And he underlined a reality here that there actually wasn't an agreement yesterday. They had a meeting. They restated some points that they had said before. And if there was anything agreed to, as the North Koreans claim, it's something that was private or not written or that we don't know about yet. And Gallagher, in this long thread, essentially worries about where this is going, worries about whether it ends up like another Iran deal, where there's some kind of agreement that leaves a lot out that lawmakers have to worry about later.

SNELL: The Iran deal did come up in a lot of my conversations. But there was so much optimism about the fact that a lot of these Republicans really believe that the president has an unconventional approach and that he could get some sort of deal that previous presidents couldn't.

INSKEEP: Certainly was a dramatic show in Singapore. Let me ask about another thing that was happening at the same time though, Kelsey, because lawmakers have been discussing immigration and what, if anything, they can try to vote on that President Trump might sign. Have they made any progress?

SNELL: Late yesterday evening, Republican leaders in the House announced that they had an agreement to forgo this whole conversation we've been having about overthrowing leadership's judgment and needing to have a vote on a very, I guess, moderate bill working with Democrats to pass the DREAM Act.

INSKEEP: Oh, there was a discharge petition to...

SNELL: Right. So - yeah, which is basically a sense that the Republicans wanted to vote on something - or a small set of Republicans wanted to vote on something leaders wouldn't allow.

INSKEEP: They would have forced their leaders to do it.

SNELL: They fell two votes short.

INSKEEP: Oh.

SNELL: So the signatures did not - they did not reach their goal. Instead, leaders reached this agreement to have a vote on two bills, one that would largely match the four pillars that President Trump laid out outlining security and cutting back on immigration and then something a little bit more moderate - because the message that leaders sent to most of their members was, it would be demoralizing to their base and frustrating for them to vote on something that would get Democrats votes. They didn't want to pass an immigration bill out of the Republican-controlled Congress on mostly Democratic votes.

INSKEEP: OK. So as far as that discharge petition goes, never mind.

Kelsey, thanks very much.

SNELL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelsey Snell.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK. We're covering this story of more than 600 migrants who were rescued from the Mediterranean over the weekend.

GREENE: Yeah, they boarded a ship that was sailing near Italy's southern coast when it was ordered to stop. Both Italy and Malta refused the migrants entry. Spain has now stepped in, saying they are welcome in Valencia. And we spoke earlier with Dr. David Beversluis with the aid group Doctors Without Borders. He is on the boat with the migrants, and he says the journey has been difficult.

DAVID BEVERSLUIS: They're stressed out. They're tired. It's been a very long last several days. And it's continuing for the next several days at least, until we arrive in Spain.

INSKEEP: Reporter Lucia Benavides has been covering this from Barcelona. She's on the line.

Hi, there.

LUCIA BENAVIDES: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. First, why did Italy turn this ship away?

BENAVIDES: So Italy has a new coalition government that has run on an anti-immigrant platform. They're asserting their stance against refugees entering Italy. And - although it's also worth it to note that on Wednesday morning, Italy did let an Italian coast guard vessel dock in Sicily with more than 900 migrants. So they are still letting migrants in, but it seems that they're only letting in Italian maritime vessels as opposed to foreign country NGOs.

And it's also important to note that Italy has been dealing with the bulk of the immigration crisis seen in Europe since 2014.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

BENAVIDES: They've seen hundreds of thousands of migrants arrive, usually crossing from Libya. And so in the last few years, Italy has been doing a lot of kind of questionable things to deal with immigration, like making controversial deals with Libya to intercept migrants. It's been documented that a lot of the migrants that are sent back to Libya in detention centers there are experiencing human rights violations like slavery and torture. And Italy has also been investigating a lot of NGO search and rescue vessels and...

INSKEEP: OK.

BENAVIDES: ...Detaining the boats - yeah...

INSKEEP: OK. So...

BENAVIDES: ...Although no official charges have been made.

INSKEEP: So we're getting a sense that Italy is not cutting off migration, but it is certainly doing a lot of different things. And this is one more to limit migration. Very briefly, then, why is Spain saying yes when so many other countries are saying no?

BENAVIDES: Yeah. So Spain actually has also had a change of government. And the new government is socialist, pro-European, pro-immigration and feminist. And so this is kind of their first chance to portray this image of themselves. And, you know, there's no concern as of yet about taking in too many refugees in Spain because Spain hasn't taken that many refugees in in the past. And in fact, they've been criticized for that.

INSKEEP: OK. Lucia, thanks very much.

BENAVIDES: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's reporter Lucia Benavides speaking with us via Skype as Spain prepares to accept some migrants turned away elsewhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEWARE OF SAFETY'S "WASH ASHORE IN PIECES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.