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Foreign Policy Hot Spots: North Korea And Gaza

May 16, 2018
Originally published on May 16, 2018 7:53 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, after all the buildup and anticipation, North Korea is now threatening to cancel the June 12 summit meeting between its leader, Kim Jong Un, and President Trump. In a statement, North Korea's disarmament negotiator said if the U.S. is trying to get the North to unilaterally abandon its nuclear program, they are no longer interested in dialogue. The State Department, for its part, insists the United States is going forward as if this summit is still happening. Let's talk this through with Richard Haass. He's president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a veteran diplomat who served several Republican presidents.

Ambassador Haass, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

RICHARD HAASS: Good morning.

GREENE: So does this threat from the North to cancel the summit surprise you?

HAASS: No, it doesn't surprise me for two reasons. One is the one everyone seems to be talking about, that it's a, quote, unquote, "return to form on the part of North Korea." They've been inconsistent in the past. But secondly, the White House has gone out and has defined the summit in very one-sided terms. The national security adviser talked about North Korea essentially having to give up anything it has in the realm of anything nuclear as a first step - an extremely demanding approach. And these kinds of preconditions - it's not surprising to me at all that the North Koreans would push back on.

GREENE: So you're saying that John Bolton, the president's national security adviser, by insisting on full nuclear disarmament - I mean, that was a misstep in this buildup. But I wonder, isn't there a risk in the United States appearing too weak going into this?

HAASS: Well, look, there's a danger in any negotiation between willing to give up too much - for example, those stories that the United States was prepared to put on the table its troop presence in South Korea - that's essentially saying our alliance is in play. I would argue that would be overly generous, absent North Korea not just giving up its nuclear capabilities and its missiles, but its conventional military forces, its nonmilitary forces. So there's always a danger in wanting an agreement too much. But there's also a problem with demanding or defining success so high that the other side can't meet it. And I think that's what the administration is in the process of doing. Often in negotiations, you've got to be willing to take half a loaf. And what the administration hasn't demonstrated at all is any willingness to compromise here.

GREENE: So President Trump's national security advisor, John Bolton, attracted quite a reaction from North Korea. In a statement, the North Koreans said, we do not hide our repugnance towards him. With insulting words like that, I mean, can these two sides still come together and negotiate a path to a summit?

HAASS: Well, it's the reason you need to keep expectations in check given history, given some - the very real differences between the two sides, given what's at stake. With North Korea - may well have taken the lesson of history. When Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, it lost Crimea. When Gadhafi and Libya gave up their nuclear weapons, they lost power. The same held for Saddam Hussein. So, again, raising expectations might be setting yourself up for failure. If you try to make a summit an all-or-nothing affair, you might very well end up with the latter, with nothing. So you've got to be very careful between raising demands too high and also not - again, not setting them too low. Like everything else, it's a case of Goldilocks. And I worry about both sides of this approach.

GREENE: I want to ask you - in March, you tweeted that this is the most perilous moment in modern American history. You said the U.S. is facing potential war with Iran and with North Korea. Do you still feel that way some weeks on at this moment?

HAASS: Oh, absolutely. What we've seen in the last 24 hours is a reminder how all this diplomacy with North Korea may fail. We've set in motion a series of events with Iran that it's quite possible they'll restart their nuclear program if the reimposed sanctions begin to bite. So you've got those two things. We've got possibilities, I think, of issues with China, not just a trade war, but conceivably problems over Taiwan or the South China Sea. We've already had problems with Russia - all this against a backdrop of a world, say, that has no rules whatsoever for how to conduct itself in cyberspace, all against a backdrop of the United States questioning the sort of role it's played for 70 years. At the same time, China is rising, and Russia is cranky. So yes, this is about as uncertain a moment in history as I think we've seen since World War II. There's a lot of things going on. And so many of them are, I think - again, to use the word I used a few months ago, are perilous.

GREENE: Let me switch gears a little bit, although it's staying on the same broad topic - to ask you about Gaza. Israeli forces have killed dozens of Palestinians who were protesting the U.S. move of its embassy. There was an emergency meeting at the U.N. Security Council. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley not only defended but praised Israel's behavior. Let's listen here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: Who among us would accept this type of activity on your border? No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.

GREENE: Does she have a point, Ambassador?

HAASS: She has a point in the sense that Israel, like any country, has the right and the imperative of defending its border. But there's two problems. One is the disproportionality of force. It's not sustainable for Israel to use deadly force on this scale against these protesters, even though some of them are armed and intend real violence. Second of all, this is all taking place in a diplomatic vacuum. For Israel and for the Palestinians, this faceoff serves the interests of neither side. What we need is some diplomatic process rather than just a physical confrontation between a hopeless people and the state of Israel.

GREENE: Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, veteran diplomat. His new book is called "A World In Disarray." Ambassador, thanks a lot.

HAASS: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.