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What Lessons Can The Trump Administration Learn From Past Negotiations With North Korea


Now we're going to revisit the last time the United States negotiated a deal with North Korea back in 1994. The deal was called The Agreed Framework. North Korea agreed to close its plutonium plant in exchange for fuel supplies from the U.S. But by 2002, that agreement fell apart with the Bush administration accusing North Korea of violating the deal by continuing some of its nuclear activities.


At that time, John Bolton was undersecretary of state for arms control. He said, quote, "it was the hammer he'd been looking for to shatter The Agreed Framework." Today, Bolton is President Trump's national security adviser, and he has talked about implementing the Libya model in North Korea, referring to when Moammar Gadhafi agreed to give up his weapons and ended up losing his life.

CORNISH: Robert Gallucci was the chief U.S. negotiator on North Korea before they had nuclear weapons capabilities. He told me that he wasn't surprised when North Korea threatened to pull out of talks with South Korea and the U.S. over the latest military exercises in the region.

ROBERT GALLUCCI: I don't think it was a surprise to anybody who's been paying attention to the ups and downs of U.S.-DPRK talks. The standing joke in the policy community is that it's always been like Lucy, Charlie Brown and that football. And we come up to make the kick, and Lucy pulls the ball away. And this has happened over and over again. It doesn't mean we can't succeed at negotiations. It just means there's a certain way in which they raise hopes and dash hopes.

CORNISH: Looking back in the 1990s, what was that walk-up like to the summit, walk-up to talks?

GALLUCCI: There was a crisis at that point of the North Koreans pulling out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And the United States' intention in negotiations was to get them back into the treaty and ultimately cut off their capability to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. So the North was initially very reluctant, came to the table unhappy and then stayed at the table but at various times threatened to walk away. It doesn't take much.

CORNISH: Based on our prior experience, how big is the disconnect when we use a term like denuclearization? Do we know what that means to North Korea versus what that means to the U.S.?

GALLUCCI: The issue really is, would the North Koreans give up their nuclear weapons in exchange for a relationship with the United States, which would guarantee their security, or not? It doesn't help to have the administration set unreasonably high bars such as, the North Koreans must give up everything before they get any sanctions relief. They certainly, it seems to me, can expect substantive moves on our part in exchange for substantive moves on their part.

CORNISH: Looking back to the period of negotiation, what lessons do you draw from that that you think people need to pay attention to this summer?

GALLUCCI: I think it would be wise not to be unnecessarily provocative. I think it is gratuitous to make references to North Korea and tell them we'd like the Libya model. Well, the North Koreans know what the Libya model is. They know what happened to Gadhafi. They don't like that. Someone who would suggest we want the Libya model is telling the North Koreans, we want the same thing to happen to you that happened to Gadhafi - exactly what the Koreans are afraid of. So I suspect someone who would say that is not a friend of this negotiation succeeding.

CORNISH: And you're referencing to reports that this is a phrase that John Bolton used.

GALLUCCI: I believe he did.

CORNISH: What do you think it will take for both sides to trust each other? I mean, how tricky are these negotiations going to be?

GALLUCCI: I would try very hard to stay away from the word trust. There's no trust here. There shouldn't be any trust here. What there is is exploration of possibilities for a deal that has to be in substance verifiable, or else it's not worthwhile making. That's all there is. There's nothing here about trust.

CORNISH: Robert Gallucci - he is a former assistant secretary of state, currently professor of Georgetown University. Thanks for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

GALLUCCI: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.