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How Koreans Are Reacting To Potential Meeting Between Trump And Kim Jong Un


The possibility that the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea might actually speak face-to-face has sparked a hope. For the first time in a generation, high-level talks may replace the harsh rhetoric between the two nations. If the North Korean nuclear threat still seems a little distant to the U.S. and other Western nations, well, it feels very real for the 74 million people living on the Korean Peninsula. For the perspective from South Korea, we're joined now by NPR's Elise Hu in Seoul. Hi Elise.


SHAPIRO: Twenty-four hours after the announcement, what are you seeing in the way of domestic reaction in South Korea?

HU: Well, we're seeing a lot of analysis focused on where the potential meeting will happen and what the two leaders will talk about. The original news was that Trump immediately agreed to a meeting, and South Korea said it would happen by May. The White House has since walked that back, saying there will be preconditions.

There's also a lot of coverage here on the details of the Kim meeting with South Korean envoys earlier this week, which happened before the South Koreans went to the U.S. At that meeting, according to a Blue House briefing, Kim Jong Un showed that he was quite aware of his international notoriety, in fact even joking about his missile tests waking up South Korean leaders, who then had to scramble to have national security meetings as a result. And President Moon here has set up a preparation committee - a council, if you will - to begin preparing for his own face-to-face summit with Kim, which is slated for April.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about the role of South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in - sort of a diplomatic go-between here. How much of a risk is this?

HU: Big risk, big reward, he would argue. And Moon and Kim have to talk face-to-face first. So right now, there's a lot of focus domestically for Moon to get to some sort of agreement of a freeze, if not more, maybe in his talks with Kim Jong Un, which are likely to happen in April at the Inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom. And Moon has experience with the North Koreans. He was Blue House chief of staff for another progressive pro-engagement president before in the 1990s, but obviously the stakes were lower then.

SHAPIRO: President Trump has never been especially close with President Moon. When it comes to North Korea, Moon has insisted on a return to diplomacy for the last year at least as Trump is threatening fire and fury. Trump accused Seoul of appeasement on Twitter last summer. So is this moment a sort of personal breakthrough for the two leaders? Is it a win for Moon?

HU: Well, Moon is looking very popular here right now as we have seen this immediate coverage following the announcement of a potential meeting, but this is just the beginning of a long diplomatic process. And during this process to getting to the table, the real movement and work won't be born out by Trump at the Trump-Moon level, right? It's going to happen at lower levels.

So the relationships between Korean and U.S. diplomats, Korean and U.S. intelligence folks - that's going to be really more important going forward. And Trump, sure, has criticized Moon on Twitter, but he's also wildly reversed himself on policies. So Moon can use that diplomatically. He can use it as flexibility.

SHAPIRO: Just in our last minute, we described this as a once-in-a-generation diplomatic opening. So for millennials who have not seen something like this in their lifetime, how is this moment playing out?

HU: Well, on Korean social media, for the first time in a long time, the brokering of possible talks actually made it as a trending topic up there with K-pop groups like BTS.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) OK.

HU: So the fact that this is...

SHAPIRO: Priorities.

HU: ...Making any ripples - right (laughter) - so the fact that this is making any ripples at all among the public with really diffuse interests is significant.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Elise Hu in Seoul, South Korea. Thanks, Elise.

HU: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elise Hu
Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.