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Former Top National Security Official Reacts To New Missile Defense Review


Well, as we just heard, this new missile defense strategy singles out North Korea as a continuing extraordinary threat, which is extraordinarily awkward because the report drops even as the Trump administration is angling for a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Kim's lead negotiator is expected to be at the White House tomorrow bearing a letter from Pyongyang.

Well, one person watching to see how this unfolds is Michael Green. He was the top National Security Council official for Asia under President George W. Bush. So I asked him what exactly he'll be watching for.

MICHAEL GREEN: Well, one is, will we see any concrete steps towards denuclearization? Will the North Koreans offer, for example, to provide a declaration of what nuclear fissile material weapons labs and things they have? But don't expect...

KELLY: And just to pause you there for a moment...

GREEN: Yeah.

KELLY: That is worth just noting - that North Korea in the seven months since the Singapore summit has not even produced a declaration of - here's what we've got; here's the size of our arsenal.

GREEN: That's right. The U.S. position is that we need to see complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. You can't do that without the first step of the North Koreans declaring what it is they're going to denuclearize. So even the first step hasn't happened. So I'd look to see if there's anything more concrete than the very vague promises that have been floating around since President Trump met Kim Jong Un in Singapore. I don't expect much, but you might see some indication the North Koreans are willing to at least talk about it or something.

But there's another dimension to this that many in the region are watching with great anxiety, which is, what will President Trump say about the visit of the North Korean diplomat and his summit with Kim Jong Un - because when he met with the North Korean leader in Singapore in June, he declared that he would like to someday pull U.S. troops out of South Korea. It would be a move comparable to pulling out of Syria but on a much larger scale with even bigger geopolitical implications.

KELLY: That's a checklist for what to watch for on the U.S. side and what the U.S. side might want out of this. What about the North Koreans - I mean, any guesses as to what is in this letter that's being hand-carried from Pyongyang?

GREEN: So Kim Jong Un scored what every North Korean leader has wanted, which is a closed-door meeting with the U.S. president to try to strike a grand bargain. Consistently, the North Koreans' goal has been to strike a bargain where they keep their nuclear weapons, which is their ultimate guarantee of survival. And Kim thinks he will get the best deal he's going to get from any person on the U.S. side directly with President Trump. So I think the letter will try to entice President Trump to come to a second summit.

KELLY: Why is a second summit a good idea from the U.S. point of view? I mean, I've heard national security adviser John Bolton say North Korea didn't keep the promises it made at the first summit, so we should have a second. You could make the opposite argument. North Korea - if they didn't keep their promises, why is rewarding them with another summit the right way to go?

GREEN: The only policy case you can make for a second summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un is that it keeps things calm, that it stops the North Koreans from going back to a cycle of testing missiles, testing nuclear weapons, rattling Asia. And it stops President Trump from going back to threats of fire and fury and military options. So it keeps things calm.

KELLY: If you were sitting on the NSC today...

GREEN: Yeah.

KELLY: ...What would your advice be - second summit or not?

GREEN: I would never have recommended a first summit. And I'll tell you honestly. I think the attitude of most of the national security team under President Trump is that it would be better not to have a second summit given how little we've gotten from the North Koreans. But the president's driving this. He's in charge, and he clearly wants another summit. And he clearly thinks that he can get something out of Kim Jong Un that no other administration has.

KELLY: Michael Green, thank you.

GREEN: Thank you.

KELLY: That's former National Security Council official Michael Green. He's now senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a professor at Georgetown. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.