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Former U.S. Negotiator With North Korea Discusses Invitation To Trump To Meet


And let's bring in the voice - another voice here. This is Ambassador Christopher Hill, who has negotiated with North Korea over its nuclear program and was watching all this unfold tonight. Ambassador Hill, welcome back to the program.

CHRISTOPHER HILL: Thank you very much.

KELLY: What do you make of this surprise announcement at the White House tonight?

HILL: Well, I mean, this is quite extraordinary. First of all, the North Koreans have invited American presidents before, but none of them has ever come close to accepting. And apparently that's the situation we have going right now. And then I think very interestingly, the North Koreans have taken the point and, according to the South Koreans, have understood the point that our exercises must continue. I've never seen the North Koreans relinquish that idea before.

KELLY: You're talking about the joint military exercises U.S. and...

HILL: Joint...

KELLY: ...South Korea - which, yes...

HILL: These are...

KELLY: ...Apparently they've acknowledged can - will go on.

HILL: These joint military exercises are very important. They're the difference between a alliance on paper, an alliance on the ground. And I think the North Koreans have correctly understood how important they are. And they've always complained about them every single year. I mean - and so for them now to say they get it is rather new. Now, of course the big...

KELLY: What do you think changed?

HILL: Well, I - it's very hard to say. I mean, I think President Trump has a theory about it. And frankly, he may be right about some of this because it was pretty clear that the U.S. was kind of going relentlessly on this issue. And he's such a - how to put it - different kind of president that - he seemed to be prepared to talk about things that other presidents have not been prepared to talk about. For example, in Washington the last few weeks, there's been a discussion about the so-called bloody nose and the idea that somehow we could launch some kind of strike against the North Koreans.

So it could be that this kind of attitude unconstrained by what anyone in the past has done kind of gave the North Koreans pause. And we also have on the North Korean side of the ledger a leader who's not gone through this kind of situation before, and so he may have different ways of thinking. It's really hard to assess right now. What's important, though...

KELLY: Sure.

HILL: ...Is the U.S. has some clear understanding of what goes forward because a presidential meeting is kind of coin of the realm, and the idea that we are just going to have a pause in their testing without really concrete understandings of what goes forward - that's risky, and those risks need to be mitigated by very good staff work.

KELLY: You're making the point that before there were any kind of summit, there would be a lot of diplomatic groundwork that needs to get done between now and May if this meeting actually happens.

HILL: Well, you got it. I mean, what you do is kind of - first of all, it's important to...

KELLY: In just a few seconds, Ambassador.

HILL: It's important to get down all the steps with the last one being complete denuclearization. And then when those are agreed, you need to figure out where you could have a summit. So there has to be a real choreography to all this.

KELLY: All right, Ambassador Hill, thanks so much for your time tonight.

HILL: Thank you.

KELLY: That's U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill talking about the news this evening that South Korean officials say Kim Jong Un has invited President Trump for face-to-face talks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.